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THE FIG TREE
THE ABODE OF LOVE
DEAD MAN IN THE SILVER MARKET
THE DUKE OF GALLODORO
THE BACKWARD BRIDE
THE STUMBLING STONE
THE PREVALENCE OF WITCHES
new york ♦ CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
Copyright © 1959 AUBREY MENEN
THIS BOOK PUBLISHED SIMULTANEOUSLY IN THE
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND IN CANADA —
COPYRIGHT UNDER THE BERNE CONVENTION
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO PART OF THIS BOOK
MAY BE REPRODUCED IN ANY FORM WITHOUT
THE PERMISSION OF CHARLES SCRIBNEr's SONS.
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NUMBER 59-7 1 97
AT the time when these events took place, there was an extraor-
dinary fig-tree, which grew on a terrace that overlooked the
blue waters of the Bay of Salerno, in Italy. Fig-trees had been
growing in this spot for two thousand years, but nobody had
seen a tree such as this one.
It was not big: but it was lush. Its leaves were as thick as those
of a rubber-plant; its trunk shone like the coat of a well-groomed
horse. Its figs were coloured a royal purple and they were as
big as grape-fruit.
This is the story of that fig-tree, and of the man who made
it, whose name was Harry Wesley.
Harry was the serious son of serious parents who went to
chapel and led sober, industrious and very respectable Hves in
a suburb of London. When he was still a boy, he conceived a
great admiration for scientists, whom he considered the most
important people in the world, as we all do. When any of his
heroes spoke on the radio or wrote in the newspapers (as they
frequently did) he studied what they had to say most atten-
tively. This made him a more serious boy than ever, because he
14 THE FIG TREE
learned that the human race was in a very bad way. It would
either wantonly destroy itself through war (they said) or else
just as wantonly produce too many babies and so starve itself
to death because there would not be enough for everybody to
Young Harry did not feel he could do much about stopping
people destroying themselves in war, but their other possible
fate deeply engaged his thoughts. By the time he was fourteen
he had decided that when he grew up he would save humanity.
Thus when other boys of his age dreamed of being Olympic
champions or unbeatable boxers, Harry dreamed of grateful
nations unveiling statues to himself as their saviour. To be a
saviour he had, of course, to be a scientist, and this he made up
his mind to be.
From that time onward, he allowed nothing to get in the way
of his ambition. He gave up going to chapel, because he noted
that scientists had little use for religion; he gave up the Boy
Scouts, because they were too cheerful for his serious frame of
mind; and he gave up football, which he enjoyed, because it
took up too much of his time.
On his sixteenth birthday, his headmaster called him to his
study, and asked him in a paternal way if he had given any
thought as to what he wanted to do in life. Harry said, in his
"Yes sir. I have. I wish to invent an oral contraceptive."
His headmaster at first thought that Harry had an exception-
ally dirty mind. But on making enquiries among the staff, he was
told that, on the contrary, for a schoolboy he had an excep-
tionally clean one. He therefore reluctantly granted Harry's
request to take extra chemistry lessons, but, as a precaution, he
insisted that Harry resume his football.
THE FIG TREE 15
Harry threw himself into his studies. Unencumbered by re-
ligion, or camping under canvas, and playing football for no
more than the necessary one game a week, he made great prog-
ress. He carried off a brilliant series of scholarships and in due
course won the right and the money to go to a college in London
University that specialised in science. Here he was interviewed
by an elderly Dean, whose task was to find out, unobtrusively,
in what direction his work in the college should go. The Dean
had a winning manner and he soon got Harry to talk about
himself and his ambitions. Charmed by his questioner and sip-
ping the first glass of sherry he had tasted in his life, Harry con-
fessed that the dream of his life was to be present while a
grateful nation — or several — unveiled a statue to him for having
invented an oral contraceptive. His questioner considered this
for a moment and then said:
"My dear Mr. Wesley, I am given to understand that already
there is available a wide range of contraceptives. They must all
have been invented by somebody — clever fellows, too, when
you come to think of it. But I don't recall any of them ever
getting a statue. Suppose you think the matter over, Mr. Wesley,
and we'll have another chat tomorrow."
Harry went away and told himself that this was the first man
who had ever treated his ambition seriously, and, next, what
the man had said was right. But he was not deflected from his
purpose of saving humanity. If it was inadvisable, from the
point of view of deathless fame, to secure that the human race
had less babies, he could still see to it that it had more food.
That, surely, was an eminently respectable thing to do. He had
already studied what was being done in the matter, and he
decided that the solution would lie in altering^ the chemistry of
l6 THE FIG TREE
He went back to the elderly man with the winning manner.
His interviewer agreed that this was a much more respectable
choice, and sent him off to see the greatest living authority on
the subject. This distinguished man told him that some ten
thousand other people were at that moment working away with
exactly the same idea. He thought that something was bound
to be discovered soon. He recommended Harry to take his
degree and then to try his hand. He said that the thing to do
was to keep a sharp eye open on his fellow-researchers' work
and if he was lucky he might be able to nip in at the right time
and take the credit. He assured him that that was how the thing
was done. He said that he, himself, had two or three times al-
most made an important discovery, but somebody had always
been nippier than he.
Harry took the distinguished authority's advice to heart. He
got his degree and then a doctorate. That done, he went on to
fulfil his life's amibition. He studied hard, he worked hard and
he kept a sharp eye open. At the age of thirty-two he was
awarded a Nobel Prize. His colleagues were profoundly indig-
nant, but the distinguished authority assured him that in the
world of science, they always were. He told him he would
probably never make another contribution to knowledge in his
life, because science was a young man's game. The best thing
to do, he said, and the most tactful, was to take a job abroad.
That was how Harry Wesley came to the Gulf of Salerno, in
Italy, and made his extraordinary fig-tree.
The most profitable export of Italy is fruit. Harry's Nobel
Prize had been given to him because he had found a fluid which,
injected into fruit trees, would greatly increase their yield. It
happened that an election was pending and the current Govern-
ment was being attacked for having done nothing for the peas-
THE FIG TREE 17
ants. The leader of the ruling party therefore had the idea of
asking Harry to come to Italy and manufacture his fluid there.
The invitation was spectacular and the election, for this, and
other reasons, was won.
The Government, once more in power, had no real intention
of carrying out the scheme, which they feared would be ex-
pensive and which they knew would cost them an effort. But,
by a rare chance, one of the Under-Secretaries was an energetic
man. He was called Andrea Pozzo, and he set up a pilot labora-
tory for making Harry's fluid, largely by stealth and wholly on
When Harry came to Rome, he was not received with any
great show of official enthusiasm, except by Pozzo, who did his
best to make him welcome. But Harry, piqued at his reception,
did not like Pozzo at all. He found him very foreign in his ways.
He was not surprised to learn from him that he owed his position
in the Government to the fact that he was the nephew of one
Cardinal Capuano — in itself a very foreign thing to be.
But he approved of the laboratory — though he did not ap-
prove of it being blessed by the Cardinal — and he got down to
work. He found that his colleagues and assistants were well-
trained and helpful. Some of them were young women. One of
Pozzo's most foreign acts was to tell Harry, confidentially, that
he had personally seen to it that some at least of the women
were pretty. Harry was embarrassed. He had been prepared
since his adolescence for waves of sexual desire to throw him
off his work from time to time, as it did others. But he had ex-
perienced no waves: the most that he had ever felt \\'as a gentle
lapping at the shore.
There were indeed some laboratory assistants \\ho were
beautiful in the ripe, ItaHan style. But Harry did not trouble
them, and they took little notice, in that sense, of Harry. He
l8 THE FIG TREE
was, in any case, scarcely a handsome man. His face was ami-
able, but vaguely composed. He had sandy hair, a good, but
not fine forehead, pale grey eyes and an indeterminate nose.
His was the sort of face that one feels might do better with a
moustache and, then again, one feels it might not.
Undisturbed, therefore, by any romantic interludes, Harry
produced sufficient of his fluid to make a test. It was the season
when figs were just appearing on the trees in the warmer part
of the country, so Harry packed his bags and went south to make
an extended trial in a place that Pozzo had found for him. In a
short time he had produced a tree which was a wonder to see.
THE terrace on which the wonderful fig-tree grew was the one
ugly thing in a scene of surpassing beauty. Limestone cliffs,
sculptured into hollows and pinnacles of an endless variety,
towered away to the north. To the south, other terraces set
with vines and olives made steps down to the Mediterranean
Sea. White farmhouses shone here and there against the dark-
foliaged trees that were sometimes peppered with blossoms and
sometimes bent under the weight of lemons and oranges. It
was very quiet, save for the rustle of the sea against the rocks
On Harry's terrace, however, there were no vines. They had
been rooted up. There were no olive trees, or rather there was
nothing left of them but their stumps. Instead, the terrace grew
a strange crop of measuring devices, that marked the wind, the
sun, and such rain as fell. There were cameras that whirred
momentarily every few minutes, took pictures and shut them-
selves off. Rods sunk in the ground sent electric messages to
automatic pens. Sprinklers guarded against an unusual drought,
lamps that burned blue took the place of the sun if it stayed
exceptionally long behind a cloud. The tree itself, with thin
22 THE FIG TREE
metal slivers sunk here and there in its silky bole, stood alone,
save for one other growing thing. This was another fig-tree, a
flourishing one, but looking wan and sickly beside the other
because, although it shared all the coddling, it had not been
given Wesley's acid.
To Harry Wesley, this unlovely clutter was the most beau-
tiful plot of land he had ever seen. He was happy and con-
tented at last. He lived in a small farmhouse that had been
summarily adapted for him by running in some simple sanita-
tion and a shower. He spent most of his days checking his in-
struments, taking minute samples from his tree, and injecting
the acid, a delicate and still uncertain procedure which varied,
according to complex equations, with the readings on his in-
struments. Part of his contentment came from the fact that
slowly shaping in his mind each day was a simpler system
which any farmer could use. He left his farmhouse and terrace
only once a week when he went to Salerno to study his slides
and samples on an electronic microscope that filled a whole
room, and enabled him to glimpse, if not steadily observe, the
very molecules of which the living matter of his fig-tree was
made. He came back pleased, for things went just as he had
He was so absorbed in his work that he barely noticed that
none of the neighbouring farmers spoke to him. The men who
had come from Rome and Milan to set up the apparatus had
told them what Wesley was doing. But they naturally did not
believe what slick men in city suits told them. The farmers
bided their time, and watched. The first thing that struck them
as bogus were the film cameras. These were photographing a
tree. Everybody knew that genuine film cameras were meant
to photograph actresses. Their suspicions were confirmed when
they observed that the so-called cameras worked both day and
THE FIG TREE 23
night. For the night-time photography, lights would suddenly
blaze on and as suddenly be extinguished, a process which went
on throughout the hours of darkness. The whole face of the
cliff behind the terrace was thus fitfully illuminated every few
minutes or so. Under this cliff ran the path by which the farm-
ers, on very dark nights, took their barrels of wine to secret
rendezvous for sale, and thus avoided paying the tax. Harry's
job was clear. He was an excise-man. It was clever, they
thought, using a foreigner. But he spoke Italian well. He might
not be as English as he looked. They forebade their families
to speak to him and as for themselves did no more than wish
him good morning and good night, with knowing smiles.
When a foundling girl of the village who cleaned Harry's
house and cooked his spaghetti mentioned that, for an excise-
man, he was growing some very good figs, she was sharply
told to mind her own business. That tree, she was informed
with a great deal of swearing, had grown enormous figs for
years: as far back, she was told, as the time when her un-
known mother was begetting her in a ditch with a drunken
sailor. After that the figs grew and grew, but she held her peace.
Harry had one neighbour who was not a farmer. He lived di-
rectly below him, on the terraces that bordered the sea. He
lived in a large house that had been much added to, with por-
ticoes, balconies and loggias, and the terraces that lay round
it had been turned into an extravagantly fine Italian garden.
Harry asked about its owner and the foundhng girl, reluctant
to say anything at all, finally told him that he was an Ameri-
can, who had money. The most notable thing about him, ac-
cording to the girl, was that he did nothing at all from one
day's end to the other.
"Everybody," she said, "calls me the laziest slut on the coast,
24 THE FIG TREE
and so I am, may the good God forgive me. I like doing nothing
from time to time, and if the weather's fine. But if I did nothing
like that American down there, morning noon and night, rain
or shine, I should go stark, staring, raving mad."
This was unfair. It was true that Harry's neighbour was an
American: it was true that he had money. But he did not do
nothing. He ate two square meals a day: or rather, they were
square only in that they were substantial. In design they were
the most curvilinear and the most elaborate baroque.
Harry's neighbour was called Joe Bellman. Joe was very
fond of food. It cannot be said that Joe had made an art
of cooking. Painters paint, sculptors use a chisel, and even the
most advanced composers sometimes play the piano. Joe never
touched a pot or a pan, or indeed ever entered his heavily
staffed kitchen. This was because next to food, the thing he
liked best was having no occupation at all.
The Bellmans were a large family and, save for Joe, were ex-
tensively occupied. They made things all day long, and lay in
bed thinking of their factories making things all night. They
made chemicals and plastics; tractors and limousines; paper and
cement, according to which branch of the family they were in.
Only Joe made nothing at all. Only Joe could never understand
how things work. Only Joe slept tranquilly at night, having
made nothing all day long, not even his own bed. He was such a
useless member of the family that Uncle Paul (the richest
Bellman and known as Oom Paul to them all) said that Joe
was probably a writer. Joe dutifully agreed that he probably
was, and tried to make a book. But when Oom Paul asked
him how the book was coming along, he had replied, "Very
well, Oom Paul, but it's just that I don't seem to see how
writers do those bits where someone says something and then
someone answers back. I've tried, but it doesn't seem to work."
THE FIG TREE 25
Oom Paul banished him to Europe on the spot to look after
the family interests there, which were practically nothing.
One day Joe had been driving Oom Paul along the very
stretch of coast where Harry was growing his fig-tree. A
laughing boy had thrown a wild flower into their car and it
had fallen on Oom Paul's lap.
"Why did he do that?" asked Oom Paul.
"Because he's happy and he likes you," said Joe.
"Oh," said Oom Paul. He examined the flower attentively.
"What sort of flower is it?"
"It's a thistle," said Joe.
"Oh!" said Oom Paul. "It's not a very good thistle."
This answer had made Joe so sad that he had determined at
that very moment that he would leave his family for ever and
settle down on that very spot.
This he did, and he lived happily ever after until Harry grew
his iig-tree, for Harry's fig-tree caused him the most strenuous
and difficult hours of his life.
He was profoundly alarmed when Harry started up his ap-
paratus on top, so to speak, of his head. He would gaze up
at Harry, and Harry would look down at him. Harry saw a
short plump man, very red all over, with the figure of a well-
fed twelve-year-old boy, who spent most of his day lying in
the sun or splashing about in the sea. When they met on the
road or in the village piazza, Joe would nod to Harry and trot
past him on his short legs. Harry, writing home to one of his
colleagues said his neighbour was standoffish, but did not seem
a bad fellow. He tried to describe him but failed, since he had
no talent for that sort of thing. The Countess della Querela, who
had, said that Joe looked like the historian Edward Gibbon,
l6 THE FIG TREE
Countess della Querela, who was one of Joe's few friends
on the coast, was able to set his fears at rest. He had asked
his servants what was going on, but they had long ago come
to a compact among themselves never to tell their master the
truth, because it put him off his food. They concocted the
story that it was to do with a film, thinking that their master,
like themselves, would be delighted with the idea of beautiful
film stars swimming in the bay. Joe, who had not been inside
a cinema for twenty years, refused to eat dinner. Countess della
Querela, arriving next morning to do Joe's accounts and pay
his bills (for this was something he could never bring himself
to do) found the staff with faces suitable for a house of mourn-
But she had met Harry, and liked him, and she told Joe what
he was doing. Joe, full of remorse at having cut so distinguished
a man, asked him to dinner and asked the Countess as well.
It was most successful. Harry had never dined with a
Countess. He had, in theory, egalitarian views, but these were
quickly assuaged because the Countess, as she always did, be-
gan the conversation by saying that her family w^ent back to
the thirteenth century and that she, personally, was dead flat
broke. Continental aristocracy might have put Harry into a
democratic huff. Decayed aristocracy was just, as Harry said
to himself, the ticket.
As for his host, he all but fell in love with him. There was
more of the eighteenth century about him than his resemblance
to Edward Gibbon. Like most Americans, his manners were
formal, but unlike the majority of his countrymen's civilities,
his were secure. His accent, too, of which he was proud, was
a relic from that period, and which has survived (to the shame
of the present-day English with their mechanical bleat) in a
few of the older universities. Above all, Joe barely seemed to
THE FIG TREE 27
know that the modern world existed: not, at least, its darker
aspects. He had the comfortable optimism that died when men
began to wear trousers instead of breeches. Joe often fancied
he would have looked well in breeches. He had the leg for it;
a short one, he admitted, but still, the leg for it.
He liked Harry and soon got into the habit of asking him
each evening, usually to a tete-a-tete, for there were not many
residents of the coast whose company Joe liked enough to have
them at his table. They would eat Joe's elaborate dinner, and
then sit on one of Joe's many balconies, looking out at the sea
and the moon. Behind them, hidden by trees, Harry's cameras
would intermittently whirr, and his lights shine for brief mo-
ments. Behind these, higher up the mountains, the farmers would
carry their illicit wine to the trysting-place, in short runs, for
they had mastered the timing of the lights and were hugely
pleased at the way they were outwitting the excise spy.
On one of these occasions, Joe relaxed, for a while, his studied
lack of interest in the world about him, and talked hesitantly
of Harry's job.
"It's a strange thing," said Joe. "Here we are sitting on a log-
gia together. The night is perfect. There is a full moon. The
dinner was excellent. At least," he said, correcting himself, "I
hope you found it good."
"Very good indeed," said Harry.
"Thank you. As I was saying, here we are sitting quite hap-
pily in each other's company. At least," he said, correcting
himself again, "/ am happy in your company."
Harry, unable to cope with these deUcacies, but enjoying
them, mumbled some agreeable noises round his cigar.
"And yet," said Joe, "you're a scientist. A most distinguished
scientist, of course."
"Dunno so much," said Harry. "A lot of chaps get the Nobel
28 THE FIG TREE
Prize, you know. I looked them up. One chap got it for having
found the cause of cancer. He was a pure charlatan, although
perhaps he didn't know it. He said the cause was worms."
Joe winced and was glad that his manservant came round at
that moment with the brandy tray. As he poured himself an-
other glass, he reflected that nobody nowadays, not even a
thoroughly nice fellow like Harry knew what to talk about —
and what not to talk about — after dinner.
"That is most interesting," he said, "and some other time
I would like to hear more about it. But what I was going to
say was that you are the first scientist I have ever got on with.
My family employs droves of them and they think very highly
of them. I'm afraid I don't. They're always upsetting things,
changing things about. Of course you're English, and that
makes a great deal of diflterence. I like the English. A very civil
people in my opinion. There is only one thing wrong with
them, and that is they don't understand the importance of
food. But d'you see, you do. As far as I can gather you have
spent your life inventing better food."
"Well," said Harry, "I suppose so. In an abstract way."
Joe put down his brandy.
"But my dear Harry, you don't mean to say that what you're
really doing is to invent some sort of pill thing on which we've
"No, no, no. Nothing like that," said Harry, laughing.
"So I understood," said Joe, "from Isabella."
Harry savoured his cigar, his brandy and the fact that he
knew Isabella was the Countess della Querela and called her by
that name to her aristocratic and decidedly beautiful face. He
felt expansive. He stretched his legs and laughed again.
"As a matter of fact, I don't think any of us would talk about
food pills and all that nonsense, not in these days. It's the sort
of thing you read in books twenty years ago."
THE FIG TREE 29
"I daresay it is," said Joe. "It must be that time ago since I
^^Any book?" asked Harry, incredulously.
"Well, to be quite truthful, I did read detective stories until
I came here. I did it to improve my spelling. I never could
spell properly. Now I don't have to, because Isabella does it
for me. Her command of the English language is quite extraor-
dinary. And French. And German for that matter. A most
literate woman. Yes, indeed: it is a cross she has to bear. She
considers it an incomprehensible streak of vulgarity in herself
and she'd get rid of it if she didn't earn her living by it. None
of her really distinguished ancestors could read or write, you
see. Poor Isabella. She has so many crosses. For instance, ice
cream. Do you like ice cream, Harry?"
"Not much. Well, as I was saying about food-pills," Harry
went on, and Joe sighed gently. Isabella and ice cream. It would
have made a perfect after-dinner conversation. Snobbery and
food. No topics could be more suitable. There was that third
one, thought Joe, sipping his brandy. What was it? Ah, yes.
Pornography. Lord Chesterfield said that he always introduced
the topic when the port was served. But no, thought Joe, I
would not have liked Lord Chesterfield. Few people did, after
Joe woke from his reverie to realise his guest was talking.
"I beg your pardon," he said. "What were you saying?'*
"About the pills," said Harry, slightly aggrieved.
"Oh ... ah, yes," said Joe and recovered himself. "I'm
afraid my thoughts wandered. You reminded me that I hadn't
taken my own pills this evening, but I'm enjoying myself so
much I've decided that I won't need them. Do ffo on."
Harry, flattered, did so:
"As I was saying, it's all part of the bunkum they used to talk.
Pills. Babies in bottles and robots that think. God knows what
30 THE FIG TREE
Other tomfoolery. You see, it used to be a physicists' world.
When you said 'science' you meant physics. And in my opin-
ion all physicists are bullies. They want to kick things around
into shape. Their shapes. They'd like to mark off the universe
like an army cantonment — all straight gravel paths, white-
washed borders and bull-shit. You follow me?"
Joe closed his eyes and sniffed his brandy. "I limp along
behind," he said, "but full of eagerness to learn." He reflected
that it was nothing less than the truth. For all his unfortunate
after-dinner vocabulary, Harry had an original mind.
"Well, they've had their day," said Harry, with a violent
gesture that sent the ash of his cigar scattering over his clothes.
"It's been a long, long day, but it's nearly over. Now it's the
turn of the biologists, or it very soon will be. I admit we're
not quite ready. More, I'll admit we're as far off beam as we
can be. But it sometimes seems to me, when I read of what
we're doing in the scientific journals, that — well — it's like what
it was before Copernicus. There were lots of very intelligent
men spending their lives working out just how many spheres
of fixed stars there were, and just what loops the planets looped
when they went round the earth and just how big was the
orbit of the sun — all very clever, very brainy, very painstak-
ing stuff. Then comes along this man who looks at their re-
sults and says, *Ah, yes. Fine. But the earth goes round the
sun.' " Harry paused and dusted the ash off himself, slapping
and banging his clothes as though the ash were ants. He looked
up sharply. "Do you know," he said, with a suddenly confi-
dential tone, "I used to think I might be the new Copernicus."
"And well you might be," said Joe. "You're already a fa-
mous young man."
"Thanks, but it won't do. Old Tommo says I'm finished and
Tommo is never wrong."
THE FIG TREE 31
"Who," said Joe, "is Tommo?"
"Sir Gregory Thompson F.R.S. We all call him Tommo. He
likes it. Tommo said to me that I'd had one good idea and I
was too old to have another. And that one idea isn't good
enough. Not to make me a second Copernicus, at any rate.
Tommo saw that, and I accept his verdict."
Joe shook his head.
"In my opinion," he said, "for what it's worth, any distin-
guished man who actually likes people to call him Tommo has
a streak of brashness in his nature. I'm sure his verdict was
hasty, and wrong. By the way, what was the idea you had? That
is, if you think I can possibly understand it."
"It wasn't very complicated, really," said Harry. "You see,
like lots of other people, I work with desoxyribonucleic acid."
"Ah," said Joe, with a little gasp. "I must remember that."
"Call it DNA, like we all do."
"No," said Joe, firmly. "I cannot bear this modern fad
for initials. I find it much more confusing to remember them
than the real words. You must write yours down on a slip of
paper for me. Tomorrow. Well, you work with this acid. And
"Well, there's a chap who made it in the laboratory, but I
took the real stuff and tarted it up a bit. It's the thing which
makes the chemistry of every living thing tick over. I put it
into cells and the cells divide, and my stuff helps them do it. It's
helping up there in that fig-tree now."
Joe looked up in wonder.
"You mean your," he hesitated, "stuff," he said, and hesitated
again. ''Once you have tarted it up,^^ he said, as though he were
proudly using the first phrase he had learned in Mandarin Clii-
nese, "actually changes the workings of the cells. How?"
"That," said Harry, slapping his knee, "is a damned fine
32 THE FIG TREE
question. The jackpot question now as old Tommo would say."
"I knew he was vulgar," murmured Joe, but Harry in his
enthusiasm did not hear him.
"The answer to it is that I don't know and I'm pretty sure
I never shall. I know what it does. It makes the fruit of that
tree big enough to knock your eye out. That's what I got my
putty medal for."
"The Nobel Prize," explained Harry. "Do you know, when
I go to Salerno I put my specimen under that microscope. It's
almost never working right. None of them does. But some-
times I'm lucky and I can get one picture. And in that picture
I can just glimpse the actual m.olecule of the stuff. Shall we
ever see into that: see its works — the actual works that are
wound up to make a living thing? Well, maybe, one day. But
we all know — those of us who aren't punchdrunk from the
physicists, that is — we all know what we shall discover about
the secret of life."
"What?" asked Joe, holding his breath.
"Sweet F.A.," said Harry.
"F.A.," Joe repeated. "Is that another acid?"
"F.A. Fanny Adams. Sweet Fanny Adams," said Harry, half-
exasperated and half -laughing. "It's slang for 'nothing.' Noth-
ing whatever. Not a single sausage."
"Sausage," repeated Joe, in awe. He was now thoroughly,
but happily, at sea. "Why?"
"Well," said Harry. "Take the physics boys. Everything
can be measured, they said. And what happened. They did fine,
measuring away and putting everything down neat and tidy
in figures, until they came to measure electrons. They're the
smallest thing we know. In fact, they're so small that we're not
sure they are anything. They're probably just a sort of dimple
THE FIG TREE 33
in a field of force. As for me, I always think of them as the
smile on the face of a Cheshire cat, because they've certainly
got a high old sense of humour. Every time you try to measure
them, you can't. They're not w^here they were when you started
to measure them, and for why? Because you've tried to measure
them, that's why. It's known as the Principle of Indeterminacy,
and more familiarly the Bloody Spanner in the Works. Ever
since it was discovered, physicists have been trying to prove
that it didn't exist, or if it did, it didn't matter. But it does
"I'm sure it does," said Joe. "But I'm not really sure that I
understand it. Electrons, you say . . ." said Joe, frowning with
"Look," said Harry. "Take snooker balls."
"Oh no, please," said Joe with dismay. "Don't let's take
snooker balls. I have a friend who tried for hours to teach me
the game and I'm afraid I drove him quite desperate."
"Not snooker balls, then," said Harry amiably. He paused
for a moment. He rather fancied his powers of explanation and
he soon hit upon the right simile for his audience.
"Suppose," he said, "you were giving a dinner-party."
"Ah!" said Joe, relaxing his expression. "That's much better."
"Suppose you asked twelve guests, but you had forgotten
you had only eleven seats at the table, even with a squeeze.
Now, in they all troop and you begin sitting them down. Well,
when you get to the twelfth man, somebody will stand up,
won't they? — good manners and all that cock. Well, you sit
him down and somebody else stands up: and so on and so on.
You'll never get them seated, will you?"
"No," said Joe, appreciatively. "What a vivid picture you
have drawn! I know some hostesses in Washington \\\\o are
perfectly capable of doing a thing like that. What an excellent
34 THE FIG TREE
example, Harry. Now I understand perfectly about your princi-
ple of whatever it was. Yes, indeed. It's most clear. Only, of
course, you really should never ask twelve people to a dinner-
party. The rule to follow is 'Less than the Muses and more than
the Graces.' "
Harry opened his mouth, and then closed it again. "I don't
get it," he said.
"Never mind if you don't," said Joe. "It's of no importance.
Nobody gives dinner-parties like that any more. But what you
were saying was of the greatest importance. Let us get back
to Fanny Adams."
"Who.^" said Harry. Then, laughing, he said, "I see what
you mean. Now I think we biologists have got our own princi-
ple. It's the Principle of Negative Results, or, as I call it, 'Now
Look What You've Gone and Done, Clumsy.' "
"How delightfully racy," said Joe. "I think I can almost
guess what you mean."
"Try," said Harry.
"Well," said Joe, barely noticing that he was for once mak-
ing a mental effort. "I imagine that you mean that when you
look inside that thingummy, you can see with that what d'you
call it . . ."
"Microscope," prompted Harry.
"Yes, that's it. Well, when you can see what that's made of,
it will — to adopt your admirable scientific terminology — it will
come to bits in your 'ands."
"Bravo!" said Harry. "That's an excellent description."
"It is?^^ said Joe, glowing. "You mean I have actually under-
stood what you've been trying to tell me?" When Harry
nodded, Joe went on, "I am so very pleased. That's the first
time it's happened with anybody for thirty years. You are cer-
tainly good company for a man like me."
THE FIG TREE 35
"It's not the whole story," said Harry. "But you've got the
right end of the stick. When we can look inside that molecule,
we may very well be able to take it apart. We might even put
one together in the laboratory. But it won't be alive. We won't
be able to make a jelly out of the contents of some bottles and
then watch it crawl off the lab. bench."
"Such a horrid thought. It reminds me of those dreadful jokes
about cheeses that some people make, like having to buy it a
collar and chain."
Harry guffawed briefly, but recovered himself. "And the
reason," he went on, "that we won't be able to do it is that a
living thing is alive because — and only because — it is the di-
rect descendant of the first living things that were made mil-
lions of years ago and which took millions of years of delicate
interchanges and fine adjustments to get itself born. We can
put the parts together, maybe, but we shall be like a child try-
ing to put the pieces of a chronometer together in a tearing
hurry before Papa comes in and finds out he's dropped it."
Joe suddenly got to his feet in great excitement. He took a
turn about the terrace on his short legs, saying, "But . . . but
. . . just a moment . . . just a moment." Then he stopped in
front of Harry's chair and, almost unable to control his voice,
"But there's a better simile than that. And wonderful to say,
I have thought of it. I, poor old stupid Joe."
"What is it?" said Harry, dubiously.
"A sauce. There are some sauces — no, no, listen to me, please,
Harry, or I shall forget the whole thing and that would be a
personal tragedy. It's the first idea I have had in a quarter of
a century. There are some sauces, Harry, that take seven hours
to make. Now, when my cook first came here, he thought he
would be very clever. He used all the right ingredients, but
36 THE FIG TREE
turned up the gas. He made the sauce in an hour and spent the
spare time playing cards. I will not harrow you, on such a
lovely night as this, with a description of what his sauce tasted
like. Nor will I tell you of the agony of mind I went through,
wondering what could be wrong, until Isabella came and solved
the whole mystery. But you see — you do see, don't you? —
that the sauce needed time, just like your jelly or whatever
"I do declare as my name's Harry Wesley that it is a better
simile," said Harry, generously.
"Oh, oh, oh," said Joe, rocking on the balls of his feet. "If
only Oom Paul could be here now and hear poor old Joe
being positively brilliant!"
"I can improve on it," said Harry.
"You can?" Joe was, for a moment, crestfallen. "Well, but
I mustn't mind that, must I? All good ideas can be improved
on. But the real thing is that the original one was mine."
"My work is like your cook adding something special of
his own. He doesn't change the sauce. He just helps the taste
to develop. That's what I'm doing up there. I help the tree.
I don't change it. I help it to do better. That's why I say we're
never going to have machines that think, or babies in bottles
or any of that nonsense. We're going to have to be much more
modest. We're just going to help things to be richer and
healthier. More modest, but more exciting, or so I think. I
mean, just consider the problems it's going to solve. War, for
instance. People make war to take things away from other peo-
ple who've got something they want. But if you can grow as
big figs as you like in your own back garden, you're not go-
ing to take the trouble of climbing over the fence and getting
your trousers torn to pinch the man's next door. Are you?"
"What?" asked Joe, dreamily. "Eh? Oh, I beg your pardon.
THE FIG TREE 37
I was thinking about my own simile . . ." He coughed and
remembered himself. "Figs, you were saying."
"Yes," said Flarry. But he, too, was dreaming. He looked
into the reflection of the moon on the sea in front of them, and
thought of the statue to the saviour of mankind. He knew he
wouldn't get one. He'd be forgotten as soon as the next man
came up with, an idea. But it was still pleasant to imagine the
scene as it might have been.
Joe sat down and the two men were silent for a while. Far
away down the coast, little jets of coloured fire rose in the
sky and fell scattering into the sea as some villagers let off fire-
works in honour of a saint.
"Are they going to be very big figs?" asked Joe, at last.
"What will they taste like?"
"Can't say. Wonderful, I should imagine. I've never worked
with figs before, and I wouldn't be doing it now if they hadn't
told me the thing had to be done on a shoe-string. No money for
extended tests. No money seems to be the trouble with every-
thing here in Italy. Funny, when you come to think of all that
money going up in smoke there."
"You're not a religious man, then?"
"No. If I want superstition, I've only got to stick to science.
The amount of superstition and sheer hocus-pocus that goes
on in that would never be believed by anyone outside the
racket. But I mustn't get on to that, or I'll be here all night."
He rose. "Yes. They ought to be very tasty figs. I've eaten
most of my other tests. Tomatoes. They simply melted in your
Joe licked his lips.
"But they only had half doses. I'm trying a stronger treat-
ment here because they've dinned into my head that for all
38 THE FIG TREE
the money they're spending — all — ha! — they want something
The r^vo men moved across the loggia and made their way
to the gate of the garden.
"Harry," said Joe. "May I venture to ask you for a favour?"
"Could I, do you think, taste one of your figs?"
Harry hesitated. Then he thought of the dinners, the wines,
the cigars and the company that Joe had given him.
"Certainly," he said. "I promise you some of the very first
The first fruits of any fig-tree on the coast were known to be
the best. But the first fruits of Harry's fig-tree were so huge
that Harry raised the height of his fences and double-locked
the gate. When the figs went on growing bigger, he put canvas
screens round the wire-netting, doing the work himself so that
no-one should get a close view of the wondrous fruit. Harry did
not know that his neighbours had put him down as an excise
officer, but he did know that they were farmers. Even in Eng-
land he had learned the unwisdom of showing his monster fruit
to nearby farmers. By a rural logic which Harry never under-
stood, they always argued, not that his experiments were mak-
ing his own fruit grow bigger, but that they were stopping his
neighbours' from growing just as big. He, therefore, kept his
tree as secret as he could. Not even the foundhng girl who
looked after his house was allowed, any more, to peep.
When he judged the figs to be mature — and this he did by
eye, by test-tubes, by microscope slides and by electrical meas-
urements from hair-fine wires sunk into the fruit — he picked
one of them. The twig from which he took the fig was care-
fully labelled with a plastic, weatherproof slip, on which Harry
THE FIG TREE 39
wrote in his clear, round hand ^^Removed for flavour test by
Wesley^'' and he followed this by the day and the hour in which
the fruit was gathered. He then went into his laboratory, sat
on a stool, peeled the magnificent fig with his penknife and
slowly ate it.
He had no palate for figs. The taste was, for him, heavy, and
a little like a purgative. But it was wholesome and the fruit was
sound. He remembered his promise to Joe, and wondered how
many it would be correct to send him. He did not wish to appear
mean and send too few. On the other hand, the tree was a
scientific experiment. He did not wish to strip it for the sake
of mere good manners. He made up his mind to send six. To
satisfy his conscience, Harry decided to wait a day or two
before picking them, so that he could be quite sure that he had
subjected them to all possible tests: then he could tell himself,
truthfully, that if they continued to hang on the tree, they
would only rot.
Down in the house below, on the same morning, Joe complained
that he had lost his appetite. Fie explained his worry at length
to his anxious butler. He could no longer see Harry's figs be-
cause of the screens. But he was sure that Harry, in his ig-
norance of the finer points of gastronomy, was allowing the
fruit to grow too ripe. The first crop of figs was the best, but
only, Joe explained almost tearfully, if they were gathered on
exactly the right day — almost, he had been told by experienced
growers, on the exactly right hour. It would be pushing and
rude to tell Harry, but Joe felt that if he were kept \\'aiting
much longer, he would be constrained to do so. He refused to
take any interest in luncheon, and ate almost nothing.
At sundown, his butler, using a silver plate for the occasion,
brought his master one gargantuan specimen of Harrv's figs.
40 THE FIG TREE
Joe looked at it with eyes as round as the plate it lay on.
"From Signor Wesley?" he asked.
The butler said that it wasn't. The butler said that it was a
present from the foundling girl who looked after the Eng-
lish gentleman. It had fallen, he said, into her hand when she
happened to be under the tree.
"You didn't bribe her, did you?" asked Joe.
The butler, having already arranged to have the thousand
lire he had tipped the girl distributed through the next day's
market bills, said, with indignation, that he hadn't.
Joe peeled the fruit with a silver knife. He placed a piece
of it in his mouth with a silver fork. He savoured it. He ate
it. Then two tears gathered in his eyes and tumbled down his
round, red cheeks.
"This is how things tasted to Adam," he said, solemnly, "be-
fore Eve introduced him to ignobler pleasures and spoiled his
palate for ever more."
It was a remark he had made before on high gastronomic oc-
casions, and he thought well of it. It could scarcely, however,
have been more ill-chosen.
AT half-past three in the morning, Joe woke up on the floor
beside his bed, clutching his bolster to his chest. The bedsheets
and cover were in disorder. The curtains between the pillars
of the bed (for Joe indulged himself in a four-poster) were
torn from their usual graceful folds and hung, bedraggled, half
off their curtain rings. The bed looked as though it had been
the scene of some contest.
So, in a sense, it had. But Joe had been the only real pro-
tagonist. The other had been a naked woman of the most
voluptuous shape who had planted dream kisses on Joe in an
expert and shameful manner. Joe, shocked even in his dreams,
had struggled to release himself from her embraces. He had
put up a gallant fight — as the bed-curtains bore witness — but to
his intense disgust he had been, as it were, tripped up by his
own body, and been forced to yield. He distinctly remembered
how they had fallen on the floor, locked inextricably together,
and had found the carpet magically transformed into a mattress
Joe had never had such a dream before. He had nightmares,
of course, especially when he overate. But in these he ^^'as
44 THE FIG TREE
invariably a rather fat poodle who stole a string of sausages
from a butcher and was chased by a policeman. In fact, all his
dreams, both pleasant and alarming, had been about eating. But
there had been nothing about food in this dream. There had
been biting — Joe blushed to recall it — but no eating.
He got up from the floor, gave the bolster a disgusted kick
and went to the bathroom where he mixed himself a strong
dose of bicarbonate of soda. He rearranged his bed as best he
could in his amateur way, lay down and soon fell asleep.
The dream came back. The bicarbonate had made no differ-
ence at all, except that the sylph or succubus or whatever it
was, now lay on top of him instead of in his arms. His dream re-
sistence was shorter this time, his yielding more abandoned.
When he woke up, he turned on every light in the room and
sat up until the dawn.
He barely touched his breakfast and his staff, fearing a bad day,
went about on tip-toe. He took a swim and lay in the sun. He
placed a pair of opaque spectacles over his eyes, specially
moulded to his features in a light plastic. They brought dark-
ness and the woman again, this time accompanied by three com-
panions, without a stitch of clothing or a modest idea among
them. After weakly allowing them all to kiss him, Joe threw
off his spectacles in a rage. The four beauties disappeared slowly
in a green and purple light.
Joe ate no luncheon. His cook burst into tears and told his
wife to prepare to sell the jewellery wliich he had brought her
over the years from overcharges on the daily account. As for
Joe, he took a sedative and went to bed. The sedative sent him
to sleep, but also loosened whatever little moral restraint he
might have had over his sleeping self. He woke at five, heavy-
THE FIG TREE 45
eyed. He ate a mouthful or two at dinner to calm his butler, who
was a prey to such nerves that the neck of the bottle clattered
against the glass as he poured his master's wine. He, poor man,
had no wife, and the money from his own embezzlements had
all gone on horses.
When the meal was over, he ventured to ask his master if
he had had bad news.
"No," said Joe. Then he said, "Minu, you're a batchelor, aren't
"Yes, signor," said Minu, aloud, and to himself, "Sant' Andrea,
please don't let it be the horses. I'll pay him back, I swear I
"Minu," said Joe, "do you have bad dreams?"
"What sort, signor?"
"About women — beautiful, dangerous women."
Minu, relieved at the turn of the conversation, hugely relaxed.
Grinning, he said, "I call those good dreams, not bad."
The expression on his master's face caused Minu such a fright
that he ended on a squeak.
"Do you have them?" said Joe. "That's what I asked."
"Sometimes," said Minu, whispering, to be sure of his timbre.
"At least I used to."
"Not any longer?"
"If you will excuse the phrase, signor, because I go to bed
"Of course, of course, of course,^'' said Joe, half to himself.
He smiled for the first time that day. "A splendid idea. I should
have thought of it myself. Minu," he said, turning to his butler,
"this is a day of celebration for me. It's . . . it's . . . it's the
46 THE FIG TREE
anniversary of my coming to Italy. Minu, do me the honour
of bringing a bottle of brandy and getting drunk with me to-
Three hours later, Minu helped his master to bed, tucked
him up, and went to tell the others in the kitchen to quieten
the roistering which had broken out when he had tipped them
the wink that the old devil wasn't going to sack the lot of
them, but was just having nightmares.
For the first three hours of the night, Joe slept, as he had
always done, like a child. At half-past two the women arrived,
vine decked, with three male lovers, hairy and bronzed men
who challenged Joe to contests of love. He woke with the
coming of daylight. It had been worse than ever. The previous
night they had at least been lying down. Joe, shuddering at
the thought, had never before believed that people made love
on their feet.
Next morning, when he went to shave, he looked nervously
in the mirror, expecting to see a leer on his face. What he did
see caused him such surprise that he switched on all the lights
and looked again. The curl of hair that usually lay flat across
the top of his balding head, stood up, like a baby's coxcomb.
His cheeks shone with health. His eyes were clear; their ex-
pression was crisp and happy. He looked for a full minute and
decided that he had not been mistaken at his first glance. He was
not saturnine: he was cherubic.
At ten o'clock that same morning Isabella locked the door of
her small house behind her, and set out along the coast road
toward Joe Bellman's villa. She remembered that it was the first
of the month. Among the cheques that she would write out for
Bellman's signature would be one for her own honorarium. It
would not be large: she had refused to accept anything that
THE FIG TREE 47
smelt of charity. But it would pay her rent. That would be
one good thing about the day. It was not likely that there would
be any others. The sky was leaden, the sea an oily grey, and
the scirocco was blowing. When the scirocco blew she felt the
weight of her ancestry particularly heavy upon her.
It was a great burden at all times. The blood of the della
Querelas ran in her veins: rather too much of it, for she was
convinced that she was descended from the brother and sister,
who, famously, were incestuous and had a child. Then there
was the della Querela cunning, the della Querela guile, the della
Querela treachery and the della Querela fondness for poisoning
their enemies. In the Renaissance, these traits had carved out for
them a rich patrimony in the Papal States. But it was a grim
inheritance, thought Isabella, as she walked along the road for
one twenty-eight year old unmarried woman to bear alone.
The other della Querelas had given up trying. At a suitable
time after the war they had sold up every palace and acre they
had and put their money into the ice-cream business. Like so
many industrial ventures at that time in Italy, it had been enor-
mously successful. Querelas — an ice-cream on a stick — were
eaten throughout Italy. The family that had once poisoned
a cardinal now printed certificates of hygiene on paper cups
of an ice-cream called "For Baby." The patrons of Bramante
and the Caracci brothers, of Caravaggio and Bernini, covered
Italy with posters so hideous that the intelligent part of the
public, fearful for the tourist trade, had risen in outrage. The
posters had come down, for a while, but they came back. Isa-
bella passed one now and averted her eyes. It showed a family
of children with their mother looking anxiously out of the
window. The legend ran, "Drive Carefully, Father: they are
waiting for you. And don't forget to take them back a Qiierciay
The della Querela guile that had once set a pope rolling on the
48 THE FIG TREE
floor and biting the carpet in wild anger had come to this. As
for the della Quercias, they all enjoyed their change of fortune
immensely. They dropped the prefix to their names, they swore
they were all descended from a pontifical pastry cook, and they
rejoiced when their children, instead of developing the thin
della Querela noses, the della Querela smile, were fat, bouncing
and thoroughly bourgeois, a result not only of three meals a
day but of the fact that the della Quercias had married into the
mineral water business.
Isabella had refused to touch a penny of their money. They
had thought her quaint, but secretly they admired her and saw
to it, privately, that she did not starve. She employed her gifts
in translating books, one of them an enormous history of the
della Querela family written by a nineteenth century German
in eight thick volumes. It was a work no sane pubHsher would
ordinarily touch; but one publisher, fortified by ice-cream and
mineral water, agreed to take the risk. Isabella, therefore, ate.
Not much, it was true, but enough. The other Querela women
admired the way she kept her figure. Indeed, anyone seeing
her as she walked along the coast road, tall, dark-eyed, and
with that fine moulding of the forehead and the chin that one
sees in the famous Florentine portraits of the della Querela
family, would have put her down as a remarkably handsome
She, for her part, that morning and for the first time in her
life, put Joe down as a handsome man. She told herself that the
thing was absurd. He was no thinner, his head was as round,
his nose as buttonish, and he was still parboiled. But he had
come in, unusually, to watch her sort out his letters. He had
greeted her with empressement, — again a most unusual thing,
since he was a man who was shy in his necessary formalities.
She had at once noticed a change in him. There was an aura.
THE FIG TREE 49
she thought, a male aura, a sort of mascuHne effulgence which
made him seem like a rich American in the travel magazines, at
home in his Cahfornian villa. She noticed how firm his flesh was
for a man who must be fifty. He smelt nice, she thought. She
wondered why nobody had married him. She thought it might
be nice to marry him herself and raise a family. But at this
point she caught herself up. She had forgotten, for the first time
in many years, the fateful curse of the della Querela blood. It
must be, she decided, that the scirocco had lifted.
"You mustn't mind if I seem a bit ... a bit .. . strange,"
said Joe. "It's the south wind blowing, I think. Do you . . .
would you mind if I come and sit beside you at the desk?"
"Certainly not, Joe. It's your desk. And a very nice desk, too.
What is it? Directoire?'^
"I think so," said Joe, uneasily. "At any rate it . . ." He
paused. He swallowed. He plunged. "It never looks so nice
as when a lovely woman like you is sitting at it." Having blurted
this sentence at her, he rapidly took a handkerchief from his
pocket and swabbed his forehead.
Then he groaned, "Oh, my God, Isabella. What have I said?
But Tohat have I said?"
"Nothing so very dreadful," Isabella rephed. "You paid me
"I know," said Joe, miserably. "I do hope you won't think
it showed any lack of respect for you."
He looked so comically dismayed that Isabella laughed. She
pursed her lips primly, folded her hands over her stomach and
said in the accents of a genteel English housekeeper, "Oh, Mr.
Bellman, Ay am sure Ay know my place and no offence is taken
where none was meant, sir." This made Joe even more misera-
ble, so, laughing again, she said, "Joe, you certainly are odd,
this morning. I think it really must be the scirocco. Here," she
50 THE FIG TREE
said, pulling up a chair, "come and sit beside me and watch me
save you hundreds and hundreds of dollars."
Joe slid on to the chair so swiftly that Isabella gave a little
jump. He shifted the chair closer so that their knees were
touching. It was charming, it was gallant, but he insisted on
spoiling it by muttering a string of fierce apologies.
"Well, now," she said, taking up a letter, "what have we
Joe bubbled over with words. "Yes. That one. That's it.
That's the letter I wanted to discuss with you. It's been worry-
ing me. It came last night. I couldn't sleep. Unless I did sleep,
worse luck: I mean . . . well," he ended, his voice rising in
desperation. "You can see how worried I am."
"But this is just a letter from the Ministry saying you must
pull down your east loggia because it was built without the in-
spector approving the design."
"Exactly!" said Joe. He edged even closer to her. He put his
hand on hers. He squeezed it. He should, to have completed the
approach, have said something flippant, or pointless, and smiled.
Instead, with an expression of the deepest alarm, he said urgently:
"Pull it down! Don't you see how terrible that would be?
All the workmen in the house. The cost of it . . ."
"But Joe, I've already told you. It's all settled. I'm going
to bribe the inspector with five hundred dollars of your money,
and there'll be no trouble at all."
"But . . ." said Joe. He pecked at her shoulder with his
lips. "But there's nothing in writing. Is there? Is there, Isabella?
Oh, do say something quickly. Anything, but say something."
"You know I've talked to him, Joe. He's a very decent fel-
low. He can't very well write anything down but he did say
to me that so far as he is concerned for five-hundred dollars
THE FIG TREE 51
you can build a Mohammedan mosque for all he cares and he'll
approve the design."
"Mohammedan," repeated Joe, staring at her. "I'm worse than
any Mohammedan. Another night like last night and I shall be
rollicking with concubines at ten in the morning. I can't stand
it, Isabella. I'm a good man, a sober man, a clean-minded man,
a man who keeps himself to himself. Just look," he said, sud-
denly, "what I'm doing with my hands."
She did not need to look, because he was stroking her breasts
through her frock: expertly, she thought.
"Isabella," said Joe. "Isabella, I'm going to kiss you."
He kissed her lingeringly. It was an excellent kiss, a beguiling
kiss, a kiss of a passionate and experienced lover.
Joe took his lips away. He got up. Tears of remorse were
running down his cheeks. "I'm so very, very sorry. Please do
say you believe me when I tell you it's the scirocco."
"Joe," she replied, "am I so unattractive that I have to be-
lieve it needs a hot wind blowing from Libya to make a man
"No," said Joe, humbly. "You're very beautiful. I never knew
before how beautiful you are." She got up and went toward
him. Joe, struggling briefly with himself, took her in his arms.
The butler, Minu, catching sight of them through the shut-
ters some ten minutes later as they lay together on a couch,
made off immediately to the servants' quarters. Flinging open
the door of the kitchen, which was filled with servants busily
preparing lunch, he struck an operatic pose.
He delivered his welcome news as an impromptu aria: "Good
friends and dear companions," he sang, "it was love, it was
love, it was love." Then, his voice cracking and his invention
giving out, he ended in his speaking voice: "The old buzzard's
52 THE FIG TREE
got the Countess on the couch. That was what was troubling
him, the goat." Everybody in the kitchen heaved a great sigh
of reUef .
We shall be seen," said Isabella, holding Joe away from her,
but gently. "Let us go to your bedroom."
"Never!" said Joe, passionately. "That horrible place makes
me think of nothing but sex."
Isabella thought that in the circumstances the remark was
strange, especially since Joe accompanied it with a rain of kisses.
She reflected, in such time as she had at her disposal, that Joe
was an American, and she had observed that they were a people
who needed high moral thoughts as other men need liquor. It
stimulated them in war; perhaps it stimulated them in bed.
"All the same," said Joe, miserably, "you're right. We shall
be caught and I shall lose my cook's respect. Let us go to the
blue guest room. Do you know where it is?"
"The one across the corridor?"
"Yes. Let's go there."
"Yes," said Isabella. Then, as Joe did not release her from his
empassioned hug, she said: "But to do that, Joe, you must let
me get up."
"Eh?" said Joe. "Oh! Yes, of course. I'm sorry." He got
to his feet. "I — that is — I suppose I should lead the way," he
said, with a helpless little gesture.
"No, Joe," said Isabella, "we're not going in to dinner."
"That's true," said Joe, "we're certainly not," and never did
a man sound more forlorn.
She went to the blue guest room and began to take off her
clothes. Joe followed her after a few moments. When he had
closed and locked the door, he began to strip off his clothes
with the haste and modesty of a man preparing for an im-
THE FIG TREE 53
promptu swim in a river, fearful of being observed in the
nude. He jumped into the bed and sat up, pulling the sheet
under his chin. His curl of hair stood up, his cheeks shone, and
he looked more babyish than ever. He also looked, thought
Isabella, a most attractive man.
They made love. When she could no longer see the expres-
sion of profound dismay in her lover's eyes, Isabella found him
most satisfactory. His gallantry w^as prolonged and enterpris-
ing: his passion surprised her. It flabbergasted Joe.
After a while, they lay quietly side by side in the large bed:
or rather, they lay parallel, for as soon as his love-making was
over, Joe had moved away to the edge of the bed.
In spite of the tumult of his feelings, Joe could not resist
asking a natural question.
"I know I've disgraced myself in your eyes for ever, but
. . . well . . ."
"Well, what, Joe?"
"Have I disgraced myself, if you know what I mean? Have
I disgraced myself in the ... in the . . . ?"
"In the wars, Joe?"
"You've covered yourself with glory."
"Well, that's something, at any rate," said Joe. Then he made
a noise between a sigh and a groan.
"Do you know what you reminded me of when you made
"An escaped lunatic?"
"Not at all. You were like a Hindu who had been forced to
eat beef and to his horror discovered he liked the taste of the
54 THE FIG TREE
"The poor, poor devil," said Joe. "How I feel for him." He
turned her description over in his mind, and thought how well
it fitted him. But what had forced him to eat, so to speak, his
beef? What had got into his blood so suddenly?
"I'm hungry," he said, at length.
"So am I," said Isabella.
"What's the time, Isabella?"
She looked at the clock on the table on her side of the bed.
"Two hours to lunch," said Joe, gloomily.
"Couldn't we ask Minu to ask the cook to get us sometliing
"At eleven,^^ said Joe, shocked. "My dear Isabella, that is the
sort of awful thing they do on ships. Ox-tail soup," he said and
shuddered. "I've never had a snack in my life."
"Then let's have some champagne," said Isabella. "Wouldn't
that be nice?"
"Well," said Joe, doubtfully, "I don't know. I've never drunk
champagne in the morning. It's the sort of thing actresses are
supposed to do, isn't it?"
"And fast women," said Isabella.
Isabella stretched her arms luxuriously over her head.
"Well, what am I," she asked, "but a fast woman? YouVe
made me one, you wicked man, this very morning. I am ruined,
Joe, and you've done it. I shall not only have champagne, but
caviar. And thank your lucky stars I don't want lobster may-
onnaise in the bargain."
"Oh dear," said Joe. "Don't joke about it, please. I shall write
you a letter of apology explaining everything. When, that's to
say, I know what the explanation is."
With that he got up, put on his clothes and carefully clos-
ing the door behind him, went in search of Minu.
THE FIG TREE ^^
They had their champagne and Isabella her caviar on the
end terrace. Minu had laid a small table and for a centre-piece
he had used a basket of fruit. On top of the fruit were four ripe
figs, the ordinary figs of the coast.
Joe did not see them at first, because he was looking out at
the view to avoid the embarrassment of catching Isabella's eye.
But when the champagne was poured, he turned towards her,
and saw the figs.
He went green in the face, set his glass down on the marble
table so forcibly that the foot cracked. He ordered Minu to
take the fruit away.
"Is there anything wrong with it, signor?" asked Minu, anx-
"Yes. No. I don't know," said Joe. "I'm not feeling well, I
think. I can't tell what's wrong with me."
"I'm sorry, sir," said Minu, and went away hastily with the
But for the first time in two days, Joe did know what was
wrong with him, or at least he guessed. He made up his mind to
see Harry as soon as he could.
But Harry had gone to Salerno, in great haste. On the way he
had left a letter for Isabella at her house, marked both front
and back with the word "urgent." She did not get it until that
evening. The two hours to luncheon had passed quickly, for
Joe, once the fruit had been removed, recovered his spirits and
his confidence in himself. He set out to entertain Isabella as
though nothing unusual had happened, and he succeeded, al-
though, at times, he fell silent, or took side-long glances at her,
or drummed with his fingers on the arm of the chair. The meal
had been the cook's best, but Joe's appetite had gone once more
and he ate little of it.
Isabella, on the other hand, had eaten wxll. She was a happy
^6 THE FIG TREE
woman. She had a lover, and she was proud of it. She had no
conscience about such things, she told herself. After all, the
blood of the della Querelas ran in her veins: and Joe was not
even her brother or her sister's husband: he was not even a
cousin. A man whose father had been hanged for murder com-
mitted in an access of rage will not feel unduly put out if he
loses his temper and punches someone on the nose. After all,
the Isabella della Querela, after whom she had been named,
threw her lover into a dungeon and had him strangled. Isabella
stole a glance at Joe, with his upright curl and round baby face.
She had decided that she never could throw him into a dungeon.
She might, at the most, spank him.
Back once more in her own small house, Isabella opened Harry's
note. It had been typed in great haste. It began with several
apologies for troubling her and then went on to say that Harry
needed a notice to put up on his wire fences in case someone
should try and steal the fruit on his tree. It would be quite
a feat, wrote Harry, but he had heard that Neapolitan thieves
were very agile. So he wanted a warning notice, which he
would illuminate at night, and the notice should be in the sort
of Italian that anybody would understand. His own was too
bookish, he thought. The notice must say, in plain language,
that the fruit on the tree had been chemically treated. If eaten,
the chemical might have an effect upon certain people. Harry
had been most uncertain about how the effect should be de-
scribed, because he had typed 'dangerous' crossed it out, typed
'unpleasant,' crossed this out, written 'unsettling,' crossed this
out vigorously in blue crayon, and had finally written 'dele-
She smiled. It was a very English word, as English as Harry
himself. It was as misty, as full of nuances as an English Septem-
THE FIG TREE 57
ber morning. There would be nothing in Italian like it. She
took up the dictionary and knew she would find a list of
words, all rolling off the tongue like honey, and each of them
brutally plain in their meaning. There they were, just as she
expected: velenoso, distruttivo, micidiale. They seemed to hum
the tune they should be sung to. They were all quite clear. But
did Harry mean his figs were poisonous? or destructive? or
She sat slowly down at her work-table and took up her pen-
cil. Her thoughts ran for a moment on the few months she had
spent teaching at an English school for girls, a job the della
Querelas had quietly found for her. She had been made much
of because of her title for a while. But then one of the girls
who did not like her had asked, with as much insolence as she
dared, for a translation of 'Mind your own business.' Months
of prunes and prisms and English decorum had worn away Isa-
bella's tact. She felt she could not tell a lie.
"The phrase in Italian is ''Fate i cazzi vostri^ " she had said.
"Fishermen sometimes use it as the name for their boats." She
had looked the impertinent girl straight in the eye — for she was
sure the girl already knew the phrase — and she gave her the
English translation. "It means," she had said, "literally, 'mind
your own cock.' "
For a while she had felt like the Condottiere della Querela,
who rides his horse with such proud disdain in the piazza at
G . Then she had been asked to resign.
She tried her best with Harry's notice for a while, but gave
up. If Harry had put up the notice in England, she could imag-
ine the English reading it, expressionless, and going away \\\x\\
a foggy notion of general alarm in which warning detonators
— 'deadly' 'poisonous' 'destructive' for instance, \\'ould dully
explode at intervals. And they would not touch the figs. But
58 THE FIG TREE
if she put up anything so vague — supposing it could be done —
in the clear light of the coast, she knew quite well what would
happen. Her countrymen would read it, as they did every
notice. Their curiosity would be fatally aroused, and they
would not rest until they had stolen a fig and found out if the
notice means that they would be seized with stomach pains, or
come out in spots, or be stretched out dead upon the ground.
^'Warningr she wrote, at last. ''These figs have been treated
with medicine. If they are eaten, they may give some people
a belly-ache. No thieving. Stay out. Cod. Civ. Pen. Sec. 32."
she added, with a flourish, warning the intending thief of the
penalties of the law for thieving. She got a stamp from her
desk drawer, stuck it on to a sheet of paper to show the tax
was paid (for she knew that this was something Harry would
forget to do) and typed the message in capitals.
She sat back and admired her own sensible, helpful efficiency
for a moment and then her della Querela gorge rose. She had
taken three-quarters of an hour over the trivial little job. One
of her ancestors had overthrown the Signoria of T in thirty
minutes and made himself master of the town for life.
Then she said to herself:
"But never mind. Today I have had a lover."
She felt very much better.
Isabella had done Harry an injustice. He knew with great
precision why the figs should not be eaten. But it was the sort
of reason that could not be put up publicly, not even in
Italian. His visit to Salerno had confirmed his diagnosis of the
trouble, and now, on his return, he was pacing up and down
his small house distractedly.
It was in this state of mind that Isabella found him. The more
she had thought about having a lover the better she had felt,
until she decided that she could stay in the house no longer, but
THE FIG TREE 59
must take a walk. It was evening, and judging that Harry would
be back, she put her notice in an envelope and made up her
mind to deliver it herself. The walk along the upper road was
beautiful; she would save Harry another journey, and besides,
she had never seen inside his house.
Harry opened the door to her. When he saw who she was,
an expression of the greatest alarm crossed his face. Isabella,
explaining her mission in order to fill in the silence, had the im-
pression that at any moment he might close the door on her.
She noticed that he was trembUng and she wondered if per-
haps he were ill.
But when, at last, he allowed her in and they stood face to
face in his living room, she saw that it was quite to the contrary.
He was in magnificent health. The English pallor which he had
maintained in spite of the sunshine had suddenly disappeared.
He was bronzed, but not as though he had been in the sun.
The colour seemed to come from within him, just as his drab
hair now glowed with a light, it appeared, of its own. Nobody
could ever have called Harry a good-looking man, yet, Isabella
decided there was an air of handsomeness about him that she
had never noticed before.
Only his manner was left of the Harry she had known, and
this had become exaggerated to an extraordinary degree. His
awkwardness had become painful. He walked backward into
chairs, he blurted out answers to her questions, he forgot to
ask her to sit down, and when she took a step towards him,
he retreated as though he were in mortal terror of her.
She was puzzled. She asked if she had interrupted his work,
but he shook his head. Then she said that she would leave the
notice and go.
At this Harry swallowed hard, blinked and pulled himself
together. Knocking over a bottle in the process, he got out
6o THE FIG TREE
some wine and some olives from a cupboard and pressed her
to sit down and drink with him. He drained one glass quickly
and this seemed to still his nerves. He looked at Isabella for a
long minute, saying nothing. Then he sighed deeply. It was,
thought Isabella, marvelling at the way he was behaving, a dis-
tinctly languishing sigh.
She took out the notice and showed it to him. He read it care-
fully. Then he laughed, a loud and unhumorous laugh.
"Belly-ache," he said, and laughed again. "Belly-ache."
Isabella explained her difficulties.
"And then it's something that boys will understand," she
said. "After all, it's boys who are most likely to try and climb
your wire fences."
"It's not boys I'm worried about," said Harry. "They'll be
safe." Then he suddenly put his hand to his mouth. "Oh, my
gawd," he said, "they might not be." He stared at Isabella over
his fingers with round frightened eyes.
"What do you mean, Harry?"
Harry took his hand away slowly.
"Never mind," he said. He poured himself some more wine
with a shaking hand, forgot to refill his guest's glass, remem-
bered, and spilt wine on the table.
"Thanks a lot," he said, "for the notice. It's just right. I'll
put it up in the morning."
"Harry," said Isabella. "I don't want to be curious, but what
is wrong with the figs? Or can't you tell me?"
"No," said Harry, so abruptly that he almost shouted. Then,
more quietly, "No, Countess, I really can't tell you. Trade se-
cret and all that rot. Look here," he said, "tell you what I can
show you though. I can show you my lab: I don't suppose
you've ever been in one, have you?"
THE FIG TREE 6l
When Isabella said she hadn't, Harry went on in a torrent
of words to describe the apparatus in it. It was plain that she
was being headed off.
She was taken into the small laboratory. She was shown vari-
ous instruments that she did not understand and finally she was
led to a bench on which stood three tall, black and brass micro-
"That one there," said Harry, "with the double eyepiece is
stereoscopic. I'll put a slide in it, and you can have a look.
You've got equal sight, haven't you? Yes, of course you have,"
he said, looking deep in her eyes with a most strange expres-
sion. "Here. Look through there and see what you see."
She bent over, adjusted the eyepieces, and stared at the col-
oured, translucent structure of a plant cell. "It's wonderful,
isn't it?" said Harry, behind her.
She felt Harry's hand on her seat. She continued to look
through the microscope, hoping that Harry would regret what
he was doing. He did not. She straightened up. She turned and
"It is quite wonderful," she said, sternly. "It is like a land-
scape in a dream. Indeed, I would not have known that I was
awake if you had not pinched my bottom."
Harry flushed till the veins swelled on his forehead.
"I . . . I . . . don't know how I can explain . . ." he said,
"I don't think it's necessary," said Isabella. "After all, this
is the first time I have been in a scientific laboratory, and I don't
know your manners and customs. For all I know it may be
quite usual for you to pinch . . ."
"Oh," moaned Harry, "please don't . . ."
"Visitors' bottoms," went on Isabella, as firmly as she had
62 THE FIG TREE
gone on with her translation in the girls' school. "Like medical
students, for instance," she said. "Everybody knows they have
very free and easy ways."
"I'm not a medical student," said Harry. "I'm just a . . .
rotter." To Isabella's embarrassment, tears began to roll down
"And you . . . you a countess," he said, and sank down,
frankly crying, on to a stool.
He was so contrite that she could no longer be angry with
him. She put her hand on his shoulder.
"My being a countess, Harry," she said, "makes it quite
all right. It's not the first time a della Quercia's behind has been
"Isn't it?" said Harry, sniffing loudly, and still crying.
"No," said Isabella. "Here, take your handkerchief and dry
your eyes," she said, pulling his handkerchief from his breast-
pocket. Harry took it and blew his nose.
"The most famous time," said Isabella, "was in 1482. It was
Caterina della Quercia's bottom and the man who did it was
the Holy Roman Emperor."
''Honi soit qui ?nal y pense and all that," said Harry, manag-
ing a trembling smile.
"Not quite," said Isabella. "He did it in public. Everybody
could see what he had done. Caterina, with great presence of
mind, turned round and smacked the face of the courtier stand-
ing next to her. The courtier bowed profoundly and withdrew.
That's how we got our castle in F . The Emperor was so
pleased with Caterina that he gave it to her husband. Now,
Harry," she said, pushing back the hair off his forehead, "do
you feel better.^"
Harry sniffed again but, if the description may be used, he
sniffed rather more cheerfully.
THE FIG TREE 63
"Well," he said, drying his eyes. "I do, a bit. But I daresay
that Holy Roman Emperor did that to all the countesses he
met. But you see, I'm not an emperor. I'm just Harry Roland
Wesley, D.Sc. and I've never in my life done anything Hke it.
Never, Isabella. I do hope you'll believe me, though I can't
for the life of me see why you should. I wish I could explain
why I did it."
"Perhaps I reminded you of a girl friend of yours back in
England. She's probably always bending over microscopes and
you're probably always ruining her experiments."
"No," said Harry. "I haven't got a girl friend."
"Then perhaps it was the wine. Yes, lets say it was our fa-
mous coastal wine."
"No," said Harry, "I always water it before I put it in the
decanter and anyway I'm as sober as a judge."
"Well," said Isabella, with a touch of impatience in her voice,
"we'll say it was the scirocco."
"Can't be," said Harry. "It stopped blowing at five and now
the wind's in the north. I checked the anemometer just before
"Then, for God's sake, Harry," said Isabella, raising her
voice, "let's say it was my bottom and be done with it."
Harry cleared his throat, "Logically . . ." he began.
"Oh!" said Isabella, sinking on a laboratory stool. "The Eng-
Harry blushed again. "I'm afraid I'm not making out very
well, Countess. I'm no good at this sort of tiling. I think the
only thing I can do is just say I'm sorry, but I don't really know
how to do that," he finished, tears threatening to flow again.
"Look," said Isabella, firmly. "If you were an Italian, do you
know what you would do?"
64 THE FIG TREE
"You would look into my eyes and say, ^Isabella, I do not
apologise. You may smack my face; you may never speak to me
again, but I shall never apologise. You are a beautiful woman. I
am a man. Your posteriors are more exquisitely proportioned
than those of the Venus Callipygos. They are of marble. I have
tried to pinch them when nobody was looking. Yours are of
flesh. I do not need to say anything more in my defence.* "
"What's Callipygos mean?" asked Harry.
"Beautiful-bottomed," said Isabella. "It's a statue. Then, I
would pretend to draw my hand away, very slightly, but . . ."
"The beautiful-bottomed Venus," said Harry. "Well, I never.
Where is it?"
"In the Vatican," said Isabella and Harry said, "Coo, just
think of that. In a place like ..." but Isabella said loudly,
"Harry, shut up and listen to me."
"Yes, mum," said Harry, contritely.
"I would pretend," Isabella went on, "to withdraw my hand,
but you would tighten your hold on it. I would yield. You
would kiss my finger-tips, twice, and I would allow you to do
so. You would know you had been forgiven. There, what do
you think of that?"
"Very pretty," said Harry.
" Tretty' or 'not-so-bad' or 'could-be-worse' or 'jolly, what?'
or whatever you choose to call it," said Isabella, with her best
imitation of an English mutter, "that's just what you're going
"Me? I couldn't."
"You shall," said Isabella. "Forfeits. I insist. Now, come
along, say it after me."
Harry paid his forfeit as best he could through Isabella's
laughter and, finally, when he came to kiss her hand, through
his own. There, Isabella ended the matter.
But when he had seen her to the gate, bidden her goodbye.
THE FIG TREE 6^
and watched her until she was out of sight, he said to himself,
as he carefully double-locked the entrance:
"Still, I bet she thinks I'm a wolf. But I'm not. I'm a respect-
able man, so help me God." He turned back to the house. He
saw the fig-tree outlined against the late evening sky, and he
shuddered. He opened the gate again and went for a brisk walk.
About a mile beyond Harry's house there was a promontory.
It was a tall cliff and at its edge someone had made a public
belvedere with a pine tree and stone seats that had been long
neglected and were crumbling. The view from this place was
the most magnificent in Southern Italy. It swept the whole of
the Salerno Bay, from the far Calabrian coast, round past the
town itself, along the cliffs where Harry and Joe lived, over the
rocks at the foot of the cHff to a long stretch of coastline set out
with houses with here and there a church, until, in the far dis-
tance, it ended with the Faraglioni rocks of the island of Capri,
just visible beyond the end of the peninsula.
Beautiful as the view was, the belvedere was almost always
deserted, partly because Italians do not like exposed places,
and partly because the steps that led up to it were tiring and
dangerous because they had not been repaved for half a century.
But the climb was what Harry needed. Out of breath, but
feeling both cleaner and calmer from the exercise, he reached
the belvedere just as the fishing boats with their great star-hke
lamps were setting out for the night. He sat on one of the
benches and watched the boats congregate in groups that looked
like towns and villages seen at night only by the light of their
street lamps. One configuration reminded him of a hill in South
London that he had seen for years as he made his way home on
the dark winter evenings from school. Nostalgia made him bite
his lip for a moment to stop himself from crying again.
He thought of his dreams.
66 THE FIG TREE
He thought of the fig-tree.
He swore, aloud, in the still night air.
A voice said:
"Is that you, Harry?"
Harry looked landwards and saw a short, stumpy silhouette.
"I didn't know you ever came up as far as this," said Harry,
resentful at being disturbed.
"I don't usually. Only when I'm worried." Joe came across
the open space and leaned against the seaward wall near Harry's
seat, looking at the fishing boats below. The light of their lamps
broadly reflected from the sea, lit his face and Harry's. He
paused. "Have you had a good day?"
"I've had a bloody day."
"So have I," said Joe. "I've . . . I've been . . . I've been
seeing . . ." He fell silent. Then, with the expression of a man
who must tell someone of his troubles, he finished, "I've been
"So have I," said Harry.
"I gave her lunch."
"I pinched her bottom," said Harry.
"She was damned nice about it," Harry went on. "It runs in
the family, it seems."
"Harry," said Joe, and he came and sat beside him. "Surely
you don't usually ..."
"You bet your life I don't."
"Do you know what / did to Isabella?" said Joe, almost in a
"Can you guess?"
THE FIG TREE 67
"Well, you've got to guess," said Joe, protestingly. "It's some-
thing I can't tell you."
"Because it isn't done. Now do you know?"
"Haven't the foggiest notion," said Harry.
"Oh, don't be so obtuse and British,''^ said Joe, stamping liis
"That's the second time today," Harry began and then trailed
off. Suddenly he exclaimed:
"My God!" Then he stayed silent for a while. "But how can
it be possible?" he said aloud to himself. At length he turned to
Joe. "Isabella," he said, heavily. "So you made love to her."
"All the way?"
"No wonder she took a mere pinch so calmly," said Harry.
"She took everything calmly," said Joe, "but I can tell you
frankly, I didn't, Harry. This morning I behaved like a drunken
Don Juan. I didn't know I knew so much. Harry, I was a great
"My congratulations," said Harry.
"There is nothing to congratulate me about," said Joe. "It
was quite horrible. What's more," he said, tragically, "I have
been put off my food. And, forgive me for saying so, Harr^^, but
I think it's your fault."
"You do?" said Harry. "Then forgive ?ne for saying so, but
have you been stealing my figs?"
"I was coming to that," said Joe, with as much dignity as he
could summon up. "The girl who works for you was so kind
as to send one down to my butler, who gave it to me."
There was an ominous silence from Harry.
68 THE FIG TREE
"She said it fell off into her hand," finished Joe, weakly.
"I locked the place up," said Harry. "How did the little bitch
"Locks mean nothing to servants, Harry. You should know
"I've never had a servant in my life," Harry replied. "But
you're right. She must have slipped in when she called me away
to sign a receipt for the postman. So much shrieking and hand-
waving, there was, I didn't rightly know what I was doing."
"Then it is the figs, Harry."
"Did you eat yours?"
"Every bit of it?"
"Then if you've got the trouble, it must be the figs," said
Harry, sombrely. "It must be. I've been thinking ever since it
began with me . . ."
"You mean those dreams and . . . and . . . well, those
"Yes: and the mixed-up yearning sort of feeling," said Harry,
and Joe shuddered. "Well, when it began to happen, I guessed
what might have gone wrong. But I thought it was some of the
serum — the acid I told you about — that had got lost and got into
my food. That nosey girl might have been poking around my
laboratory. But when I was over in Salerno this morning I had
already begun to suspect there was something else. Now I
"But Harry, for heaven's sake, tell me what's happened. How
long will it last? Is there a cure?" said Joe, desperately; and then
with a wail, he said, "Shall I never enjoy another meal in my
whole life? Only women, women, women, women. No," he
said, brokenly. "I can't bear to think of it."
THE FIG TREE 69
Harry sighed long and heavily.
"You see, Joe, it's like this. Or so I think. The stuff I used
makes the tree — plant — bush — anything give better crops. Now
one of the ways it works is through the reproductive organs. So
you see, if some part of it, something that makes an enzyme
maybe — I told you we don't know what we're doing — well, if
some of this stuff got loose from the fruit, do you see, and
worked its way to the same spot, the reproductive organs, do
you see . . . ? "
But Joe had sprung to his feet. "Stop at once. It's too un-
dignified. I will not be told I'm a ... a tree. It's an insult to
the sanctity of human nature. It's — why, people are turned into
trees in Hell! As a punishment. I know. It's in Dante. I've never
read the book because it's much too long, but I've looked at
the pictures and there they are, all turned into trees."
"What for?" asked Harry.
"For doing violence to themselves," said Joe, still trembling
with indignation. "It was written underneath the picture."
"He was no fool, Dante," said Harry, gloomily. "In a way,
that's just what we've been doing."
There was a long silence between the two men.
"It will wear off," said Joe. "Won't it? Harry! Answer me.
Say it will wear off."
"It might. But the effects of one injection on a plant lasts for
"The sins of the fathers," groaned Joe. "But I'm not a father,"
he said, stamping his foot again.
"Not yet," said Harry, grimly.
"You're quite right. Broods," said Joe. "Broods of bastards. I
can see them." He gazed at the sea and the lights of the fishing
boats. "I know," he said. "Got it."
yo THE FIG TREE
"We shall go straight to a good doctor and tell him every-
thing. There's a wonderful Austrian in Rome who is the soul
of discretion and . . ."
"And whose knowledge of biology was twenty-five years
out of date when he learned it at his medical school," said Harry.
"This man's very up-to-date."
"In reading drug manufacturers' catalogues," said Harry.
"That's all they have to do nowadays. No, Joe. If you went
to a doctor or I did, he'd just gape at us. He might think we
were mad. He'd certainly think we were damned comic."
"Yes," said Joe. "That's the really hideous thing about it.
You can't say to people, 'I'm ill. It's something I've eaten. The
symptoms are I have rude dreams and make love to the first
woman I see.' At least, you could say it, but you wouldn't get
"That's just the point," said Harry. "We're not ill. We're in
roaring good health. At least I am. As fit," he said, bitterly, "as
"Harry, please," Joe begged. "None of your coarse phrases.
Half an hour later the whole bay was gleaming with the lights
of the fishing-boats, as one by one the latecomers joined their
companions. The fishermen rowed in wide circles, laying their
nets, and drove the fish before them by thumping on the gun-
wales of their boats with heavy sticks. The noise of the tattoo,
softened by the vast expanse of sea, made the night seem even
more silent round the two men on the promontory, like the
music of a distant band. They talked in lowered voices, ex-
ploring their common misfortune, till at last Joe said:
"So what are we to do?''
"We must think of Isabella first," said Harry.
THE FIG TREE 71
"Why Isabella? Why not ourselves?"
"Because Isabella thinks you've fallen for her beauty and
that I'm half way to doing the same thing, whereas the truth
is that we'd probably go to bed with a cross-eyed fish-wife
provided she had the right shape. At least, to judge from my
feelings in Salerno in the heat of the day, that's how the stuff
"But we needn't tell Isabella that," said Joe.
"Perhaps not. But we can't go on making love to her and
pinching her behind, knowing what we are. She's a lady."
"Harry," said Joe, after a pause, "you're a snob."
"Nobody's ever called me that before," said Harry, in an
"Don't get annoyed with me," Joe answered. "I rather like
snobs. I was a snob myself, just for a while, when I came to
Europe. I thought I ought to have another vice besides eating
for the sake of having a balanced personality, if you know what
I mean. As far as I could tell from my friends, all the other vices
meant sex in one form or another. And I never did go much for
"Nor me, Joe, nor me," said Harry, emotionally. "You do
believe that, don't you, Joe?"
Joe put his hand on Harry's shoulder.
"Of course I do, Harry. I'm your friend, Harry, and you're
mine. We're going to fight this terrible thing side by side."
"That's right," said Harry. "We're pals."
Joe winced at the word. Then, manfully, he said, "Yes, pals,
After a while Harry said, "I'm sorry. I interrupted you. Whv
did you give up being a snob?"
"It was the food they gave me when they asked me to their
houses. The Dukes and Counts and Baronesses and \\'hat not, I
72 THE FIG TREE
mean. They were all in the Almanach de Gotha — ^that's the
stud-book, you know — and sometimes I could have sworn they
served it up with a brown sauce as an entree. That's why I
took to Isabella. She was so poor that all she could serve me
was spaghetti alia bolognese, and dam' well cooked it was, too.
She's the only one of them that I know, nowadays. I suppose
now she thinks I'm in love with her she'll serve dainty suppers
for two with a bottle of wine and something in a casserole, like
all bachelor women. Quite dreadful."
Harry suddenly got to his feet.
"Joseph Bellman," he said, firmly. "Isabella's not going to
serve you so much as a lightly boiled ^%%'''
"What on earth do you mean?"
"She's not going to serve you anything at all, because I'm
not going to let you see her. I'm not going to let you see any
woman from a distance of under ten feet. And you, Joe, are
going to do the same thing for me. It's the only way. You put
the idea into my head, yourself, when you talked about a bal-
anced personality. Ours is lopsided, isn't it? Well then, we've
got to balance it up. We've got to be firm, disciplined, self-
controlled, iron-willed. Do you see?"
"Like when you're on a diet," said Joe, nodding.
"Exactly," said Harry. "A moral diet. No women. Like no
proteins, see. Not the sight or the sound or the smell of 'em.
We may have the instincts of a particularly depraved billy-
goat in the middle of the rutting season . . ."
"Oh, Harry, please,^'' said Joe, and held his breath in terror
of what Harry would say next.
"But," Harry swept on, "we are still the masters of our fate.
We are still the captains of our souls."
Joe let out his breath in a windy sigh. "That's much better,"
he said. "And you are so right. We are, aren't we, when you
come to think of it."
THE FIG TREE 73
"Of course, we are," said Harry. "It's not often you'll hear
me quoting the Bible . . ."
"/^ that in the Bible?" murmured Joe, doubtfully, but Harry,
with a brusque gesture, said:
"Of course it is. I went to Bible class till I was ten and got
a gold star for good attendance. As I was saying, I don't often
quote the Bible. I'm not a religious man. But I came from a long
line of chapel folk, and I am beginning to see now what they
were getting at."
"Oh," said Joe. "If you mean I've got to get converted, then
I'll have to be a Roman Catholic. All my friends say it's the
Harry brushed this aside:
"Too soft — too pliable — too much music — too many can-
dles. Besides you can't. Gluttony is one of the seven deadly
"Not quite," Joe answered. "I looked it up. You can eat
as much as you like as long as it doesn't take your mind off
going to Mass."
"Quibbles," said Harry. "And in any case I'm not asking you
to be converted to anything. I mean that just as they used to
talk at chapel about wrestling with the devil, we've got to
wrestle with women." Harry pulled himself up. "I am a little
confused," he said, "but I think my point is clear."
"Quite clear," said Joe. "It's just that religion crept in and
that confuses even the clearest headed person, or so I find. But
you're perfectly right when you say we've got to get balanced."
"And disciplined," said Harry. "Mentally disciplined."
"That reminds me of something. Say it again."
Harry repeated the phrase, while Joe thought. At last Joe
"Got it. It reminds me of my Uncle George."
"Is that helpful?" asked Harry.
74 THE FIG TREE
"I don't know," said Joe, doubtfully. "Let me think." Then
he, too, jumped to his feet. "Of course it is," he said. "Of
course. Harry do you know Greek?"
"Neither do I. Do you know Latin?"
"Neither do L There you are, you see. My Uncle George is
one of the trustees who pay me my money every quarter and
whenever I see him, he always shakes his head sadly and says,
*Joe, if only you'd had the benefit of a classical education.*
Like him, he means, of course. Uncle George was quite a
scholar until the family made up its mind it was time he went
into the business. Now he makes things, like the rest."
"Oom Paul says it's the bit of a guided missile that always
goes wrong. Anyway, he's made an enormous amount of
money out of it — I mean, replacements and so on, I suppose
— and he's always threatening to come out here and retire.
'If only,' he says to me, 'you had the benefits of a classical
education, Joe. If only you could understand the gravity of
character of the Romans, the sense of proportion of the Greeks,
why, Joe, what a wonderful time you could have in your villa.
You can see the severe temples of Paestum from your window,*
— with binoculars, but George isn't a man for detail, I mean, as
the missiles show — well anyway," Joe tumbled on in his en-
thusiasm, " 'You can see Paestum from your window, and the
miracle of Pompeii is round the corner from you. A man who
understood what he was seeing might spend the rest of his
life there in calm and content.' That's what my uncle George
says, and he once sent me a whole pile of books on the subject.
I've never opened them. But I'm going to. This very night. And
so are you. And tomorrow we're going to set off and see all
THE FIG TREE 75
this balanced calm, the sense of proportion and in no time at
all we'll both be as balanced as a rubber ball on a seal's nose.
What do you think, Harry?" Joe finished, out of breath and
mopping his brow. He looked at Harry eagerly.
"I say it's a splendid idea," said Harry. "It'll keep our minds
off women and give us a bit of exercise. I can't go tomorrow.
I'll have to get someone to look after the instruments while I'm
away. But he can be here by tomorrow evening. Meantime, I
have another suggestion. Tonight, we sleep under the same
"Agreed. You can have the blue guest room."
"No," said Harry, decisively. "I shall have a bed moved into
"Well," said Joe, dubiously. "I sleep better alone, but . . ."
"I'll hear no excuses, Joe. I shall sleep in your room and I
shall have a piece of string tied to my big toe. The other end of
the piece of string will be tied to your big toe, in case," said
Harry, emphasising his point with a raised forefinger, "either
you or I, Joe, get it into our heads to go out on the tiles. Agreed? "
"Agreed," said Joe, fervently, "pal."
He held out his hand. Harry took it. They stood in the light
of the fishermen's lamp for half a minute with clasped hands,
looking gratefully at each other.
Then Joe said, "Do you know, I'm feeling just a bit — just a
little bit — peckish. Let's go down to the house and see what
the cook's got for supper."
The string was the only piece of apparatus that Joe would
allow to be applied to him. Harry, with his customary methodi-
cal ways, had suggested that in the interests of science they
should both drive up to the nursing home that stood on the
side of one of the mountains of the peninsula, some two
76 THE FIG TREE
thousand feet above them and a mile inland. Joe would have
none of it.
"I refuse," he said, "to be a guinea-pig; and if you try to
make me one, Harry, you will find out why my family calls
me "stubborn Joe' — that is, when they're not calling me 'daft
Joe' or Toor old Joe.' I wish guinea-pigs could refuse to be
guinea-pigs, too, poor little beasts. I send ten dollars a year
to that society which protests against experiments on animals
and one hundred dollars to the man who smuggles out news
from my family's laboratories about the shocking things that
go on in this rocket business. No, Harry. You must just put
down in your note-book that ^Subject No, 2 never felt better
in his life J except for the loss of his appetite."^ You can also say he
never felt more miserable, if you like."
But he accepted the string, only insisting that it should be
a length of strong silk thread that he had by him. Minu, the
butler, moved a bed into Joe's room, and after a light supper,
they went early to rest.
Minu had spread Harry's bed with the prettiest cover: he
had tucked lavender sachets under the pillow, and on the side-
table he had daintily arranged a posy of flowers. All this was
for Isabella, who, he was sure, would arrive at about midnight
when all the servants were supposedly asleep. He was surprised
when he saw Harry accompanying Joe into the bedroom and
dismayed when he heard the unmistakable sound of Harry
taking off his boots. He went down to the kitchen and told
them there that he had never thought the master was that sort
of man. He said he hoped he wasn't, too, because that sort were
usually mean about money. He once more promised Sant'
Andrea that he would give up betting on horses.
Meantime, in the bedroom, Harry and Joe prepared them-
selves for the night.
THE FIG TREE 77
"Shut your eyes while I tie the knot," said Harry to Joe,
"then I'll know if you've undone it in the morning. You can do
the same for me."
They then went to bed, each with some books from the
classical library. They took, on Harry's advice, a mild seda-
tive. They read for a while, and fell asleep, satisfied, as they
told each other when they were drowsing off, that they had
done all that two decent men could do.
Joe woke at one in the morning, with a plan clearly formed
in his head of getting up and going down to the village and
throwing a handful of gravel at Isabella's window, which she
would open, and seeing him, come down and let him in. The
part of the plan which dealt with subsequent happenings was
alsb very clear and most beguiling. He got out of bed, but he
had forgotten the string.
Harry woke. He put on the bedside light.
"Is that you, Joe?"
"Where are you going, Joe?" asked Harry, sternly.
Joe blushed. He said, in a small voice:
"Please, I want a drink of water."
"There's water in the jug beside your bed," said Harry.
"So there is, Harry."
"Then go back to bed and be good."
"Yes, Harry," said Joe, and obeyed.
At three a.m., Harry woke and again put on the light.
"Joe," he said. "Are you awake?"
There was no answer, so he wriggled his big toe. Joe woke.
"Say something, Joe."
"Anything. Anything that comes into your head. But it must
be a sentence."
78 THE FIG TREE
" Tou will be taken from this place and hanged by the neck
until you . . .'"
"No, no. Not that sort of sentence. I mean one with a sub-
ject, object and verb."
"Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. If Peter Piper
picked a peck of pickled peppers, where's the peck . . ."
"Whoa!" said Harry. "One's enough. That's a splendid one.
"Can I go to sleep again?"
"Yes," said Harry, putting out the light. In the darkness Joe
heard him muttering, "Peter; noun, proper, subject of sentence,
Piper, ditto. Picked, verb, past . . . past . . . past something."
"Definite," supplied Joe. "What are you doing?"
"Parsing," said Harry, "to keep my mind off the Countess'
Both men sighed. Then, fitfully, but with honour, the long
At breakfast next morning, Joe agreed to let Harry go up to
the clinic, but insisted that he come with him.
"Nurses," he said. "They're women, and quite the worst
sort. I mean, for men like us."
"Quite right," said Harry. "Thank you for reminding me.
You can drive me up there and I can be back by ten to meet
the Director of the microbiological institute from Salerno. I've
telephoned him. He says he'll be honoured to help. It'll take
about twenty minutes to show him the things he's got to check
on, and then we'll be ready for the Greeks."
The nursing home stood in a forest of chestnut trees. The
air was keen and invigorating. Both men felt lighter in spirits.
As they drew up at the entrance, Joe even went so far as to
THE FIG TREE 79
wonder if the thing, as they called it between themselves, was
"Up here," he said, "I feel as pure as a nun."
The doctor in charge was a Neapolitan who had sunk every
penny he owned into the place, and was losing money. He
welcomed the two foreigners with tears in his eyes especially
when the matron whispered in his ear the name and size of the
long black car they had driven up in. He asked no questions: he
barely caught Harry's name: he immediately set about giving
him the most elaborate check-up that his apparatus and his fer-
tility of invention could devise.
Joe, having made sure that Harry would not be alone with
any of the female staff, except, momentarily perhaps, the matron
(who was sixty if a day) left them to their tests.
The tests finished, the doctor cast his eye over his records —
or those that were ready on the spot — and noted that Harry was
as sound in wind and limb and nerve as the pilot of a supersonic
aircraft. He shook his head, and told Harry that if he did not
take a complete rest immediately he would not be responsible
for him. For the next five minutes he listened while an indig-
nant Harry told him his opinion of the doctor's profession, his
degrees, his work and his dishonesty. Harry also told who he,
Harry Wesley, was. The doctor abjectly promised to send the
rest of the tests to Harry's address, and saw him, trembUng to
Harry got into the car. He looked for Joe, but could not see
him. The janitor, who was standing by for his tip, said that
the gentleman had gone off for a w^alk in the woods with one
of the nurses about fifteen minutes before.
Harry immediately began blowing the horn, in long, per-
sistent blasts that would have set the patients back for \\'eeks
8o THE FIG TREE
in their cure, had there been any. He blew and blew until the
doctor, the nurses and kitchen staff had all come out in alarm
on to the front steps.
Finally a short, stout figure came running through the woods.
"Harry!" shouted Joe. "Thank God, thank God!"
He ran to the car. His hair was dishevelled, his clothing awry.
His face was crimson with shame. He scrambled into the driv-
ing seat and set the car leaping forward.
"The Greeks," he cried, "and the quicker the better."
ON the drive round the bay to Paestum, Harry gave his friend
a severe talking-to. Joe Ustened humbly. Driving through
Salerno, he said (Harry, it would appear, having come to an
end of his strictures) :
"I agree with everything you say, Harry, and I'm sure I'm
sorry it happened. But," he added, as they drew clear of the
city and took the road through the coastal plain, "there is just
one thing you haven't mentioned. It's not only that we behave
like goats when we see a woman: the women behave Hke
whores. At least they have on the two occasions that I've made
love to them. That nurse, for instance, positively ogled me and
when we were in the woods — well, I'm sure I don't know how
to undress a nurse in three minutes and it really couldn't have
been longer. And Isabella made very little resistance consider-
ing her background and her bringing up. It seems thev both
found me. . . ." Joe hesitated. "Look over there, Harry, a
bullock cart with Brahmini bulls — they're from India . . ."
"They found you what?"
"Irresistible, I think is the word," said Joe. There was an
84 THE FIG TREE
ominous silence from Harry, and Joe went on in a tiny voice.
"So peaceful, don't you think?"
"I am perfectly certain," said Harry, "that Isabella did not
find me irresistible. I think that for the sake of the record we
might observe that while we have each eaten the same quantity
of those damned figs, you have taken two women to bed — "
"Actually, one to bed and one to a fern-clump. For the
record," Joe murmured, apologetically.
"While I," Harry went on, "have done no more than pinch
one woman on her fully clothed behind."
"I think you have a firmer character," said Joe. "It must be
that chapel upbringing. I'm sure it couldn't be anything to do
with my being more attractive to women or any nonsense like
"I'm sure it couldn't, too," said Harry.
"No. Look over there, Harry. A buffalo. That came from
India, too. It's part of a government scheme to find animals to
suit the climate. It looks very oriental, doesn't it?"
Harry did not answer. After a while, he said:
"That's why there's no need to be smug about your two
women. The whole thing's purely a chemical reaction."
"Oh, purely," agreed Joe. They drove on in silence for a
considerable time. Joe stole a look at his companion. He was
looking very glum.
"Ah," said Joe, at length, "look in the field over there."
"What is it now?" said Harry, crossly. "Giraffes?"
"No, Harry. The Greek temples."
The three temples stood in a line, the middle one, built in the
purest Doric style, being the biggest and the best preserved.
THE FIG TREE 85
They lay on the coastal plain, facing the hills, with a great stretch
of sea and sky behind them. Between them and the sea, ran
the Sacred Way, bordered with ruins of the ancient city. Be-
yond that was the town wall, with here and there a tower, still
Harry and Joe got out of the car and put some of Uncle
George's books in their pockets. They paid their admission at
a turnstile and went forward to the temples, more than ever in
need of the tranquillizing order and proportion of Greek things.
"Nothing too much," said Harry darkly to Joe as they
approached the temple. "That's a Greek motto. I read it last
"I'm sure that wandering among the columns of this beautiful
temple will help drive it home to me," said Joe soothingly.
"What's it called?"
Harry read attentively for a while in one of the books.
"It seems," he said, "that the greatest authorities have always
ascribed the temple to Neptune, until recently they dug up
some votive offerings and found it was the Temple of Hera.
Now in science," Harry went on, looking up from the book,
"we'd call that taking a prat-fall, but I gather that in this branch
of knowledge, it is called scholarship, and much admired."
They went up the steps of the Temple of Hera and into the
sanctuary. Joe looked about him eagerly. He caught sight of
the mountains and then, turning, of the sea between the columns.
"Who but the Greeks," he exclaimed, "would have thought
of using this particular stone to build with just here? That soft
pinkish yellow blends miraculously with the colour of the hills
and the colour of the sea. It is a masterpiece of taste, isn't it,
Harry, frowning fiercely, was reading some very small print
in a footnote.
86 THE FIG TREE
"Well, the lot that built this temple didn't think so, at any
rate," he said. "They slapped dead white stucco all over it to
make it look like marble. It's all fallen off but it seems traces
of it have been found here and there."
"White," said Joe. "Well, white, too, in its way, you know
. . . yes, I can see white going very well."
"You can't have it both ways," replied Harry. "If pink and
yellow blends with the landscape, then when it was white it
must have stuck out like a sore thumb. Well, am I right or
"I think, Harry, you're probably right, but rather muddling,
at least for me. I must try hard and concentrate and capture the
spirit of the place," he said, and walked away a few paces among
the columns of the portico. Harry unfolded some plans from
one of the books and studied them intently.
Meantime, Joe worked conscientiously to let the spirit of
Greek things sink into him. He had paid no attention to classi-
cal matters. But he had been to school: and he had, for a time
been to Yale. He had listened, if only with half an ear, to a
succession of schoolmasters and professors, and from these he
had gathered, unconsciously, as we all have, that the Greeks
were a people apart. He had been told, as an axiom about which
no cultivated man would argue, that there was a rationality, a
clarity, a calm, an openness about the Greek mind — a sunlit,
clear openness — that laid the foundations of our civilisation,
whether in science, philosophy, morals or the arts. This sane-
ness, this clear-eyed humanity, had been inherited (but mis-
handled) by the Romans and died out of the world with the
coming of Christianity, with its gloomy doctrines of an after-
life, its obsession with sin, its moral strictures, and its contempt
for the humanities. He felt that it was only by some irony of
fate that his schoolteachers and professors were living in this
THE FIG TREE 87
Christian — or post-Christian world. They would have been so
much more at home among the Greeks. Some of them, as he
knew, felt this so strongly that they spent their whole lives
in classical studies, barely troubling about the rest of the world
or the remainder of history. Their calm assurance that the
Greeks invented all that was worthwhile was thus fortunately
undisturbed by the successive discoveries that the Egyptians,
the Babylonians, the Persians, the Sumerians, the Indians of the
Five Rivers and the Chaldeans had, in fact, invented nearly all
of the things centuries before. Nor did it disturb Joe, who was
ignorant all the way down the line from the Greeks to the
Chaldeans. But he knew that it was to the Greeks that a civilised
man turned for guidance and he hoped that they would now
still the turmoil in his blood for him, or ease his conscience in
a way that would be more agreeable than Harry's chapel-bred
strictness. He wanted, he said, to himself, to look at this thing
philosophically, not morally. He was thoroughly ashamed of
what he had been doing. But he could not swear that he had
not enjoyed it. It was just the problem for the clean wind of
the Greek spirit to blow away.
He thought that he would offer up a prayer to — who was
it Harry had said? — ah, yes, — to Hera.
"Harry," he said, walking back, "where was the altar?"
Harry looked at his plan.
"Outside. It's that mound-like thing by the steps."
"Is that where they had the statue of the goddess?"
"Oh no. That was inside. The altar was used for cooking."
"Cooking?" said Joe, his interest suddenly roused beyond
"Yes. On high days and holidays and bonfire nights, as we
used to say as kids, the Greeks used to bring oxen, and goats
and baskets of pigeons and God knows what, slit their throats,
88 THE FIG TREE
and throw them onto a wood fire on the altar. When they were
done to a turn, they were eaten."
"How utterly barbarous, Harry!"
"Yes. The poor beasts must have smelt the blood and gone
frantic. I was reading last night one of them got away and had
to be pole-axed. Everybody was very fed up because it was
considered a bad omen. The noise, the stink, the blood and the
clamour! They used to blow on pipes and beat tambourines. Just
think of it. It must have been like a revivalist meeting being
held in a fully-functioning slaughter yard."
"Well, yes, that, of course. But how could the Greeks of
all people have eaten meat that was merely flung on a fire?"
said Joe, with a shudder. "It couldn't have been much better
than a barbecue, and barbecues were one of the reasons, I may
tell you, that I am glad my family persuaded me to live outside
the United States."
Joe looked at the remains of the altar for a while with an
expression of alarm and disgust. Then he said:
"But don't tell me, Harry, that those beautiful white statues
of the gods and goddesses that I've seen in museums were blood-
"No," Harry answered. "They weren't. They were kept in-
side. Just about there," he said and pointed to a spot some two-
thirds of the way down the middle of the interior of the tem-
ple. Joe walked back and stood silently on the place that Harry
had indicated. The sanctuary — for that was where he was stand-
ing — was closed in by columns smaller than those on the ex-
terior, and there were two rows of them, one row standing
on the architrave of the row beneath. Even although the tem-
ple had lost its roof, there was a feeling of intimacy, of quiet
and of decorum. Joe stood, thinking, for several minutes. Then
THE FIG TREE 89
Harry, the plans flapping out of his book, his forefinger thrust
between the pages marking a place, walked down the temple
and joined him. He saw that Joe was looking upwards at a spot
about fifteen feet above him. He followed Joe's gaze.
"See anything interesting, Joe?"
"Yes, Harry. The statue of the goddess Hera."
"That you can't," said Harry, "because it's gone. Vanished.
Nothing left. They didn't even find the tip of her nose."
"I can see it," said Joe, patiently, "in my imagination."
"Good for you, Joe."
"Tall, white, graceful. The figure of a benign woman. A
beautiful, benign, chaste woman. I can see her looking down at
"Can you?" said Harry. "Well, she's got painted blue eyes.
Check? Painted lips, gilt hair, rouged cheeks like a doll's and
dangling earrings. Check? That's what it says in the book that
the statues looked like. They don't say what colour her frock
was, but it was probably red with purple stripes. It seems the
Greeks were great ones for a splash of colour once they got
a paint brush in their hands. Oh, yes, and this painted trollop
stood on a boat. But, of course, with your imagination, you
don't need me to tell you that, do you?"
"A boat?" said Joe. "How bizarre. No, my imagination
hadn't run to a boat."
"It says here . . ." said Harry, pointing to his book, but Joe
held up his hand.
"If it says there that they impaled unwanted babies on the
prow or some similar horror, I don't want to hear it. You're
spoiling my mood, Harry."
"Just giving you the facts, old boy."
"I think one can have too many facts in a place like this."
90 THE FIG TREE
Harry grinned. "I bet that's what the man who called it the
Temple of Neptune thought, when they dug up the bit of pot-
tery which said it wasn't."
"Maybe. But there's something I want to say."
"It's about that nurse and Isabella."
Harry frowned. "We're here to forget them," he said.
"That's just it," said Joe, with enthusiasm. "In a way, I have."
"A damned funny way," said Harry. "Dragging them by
their back hair into the middle of a ruin."
"It's not that I want to talk about them, Harry. It's just that
— well, here, I can."
Harry sighed theatrically. "Well, since there's no stopping
you, let's have it. We got as far as the fern-clump. Take it from
there." He sat down with heavy resignation on a fallen block.
"You misunderstand me," said Joe. "What I want to say is
— look; you remember how miserable and ashamed I was when
I came out of the woods: as miserable and ashamed as I was
after I — well, after Isabella."
"So you ought to be," said Harry, truculently.
"Yes, but that's your chapel upbringing," Joe explained. "I
agree with you. I wasn't brought up chapel, but after all, we're
all Christians, nowadays, even those of us like you and me who
wouldn't dream of going to church. We've got a Christian sense
"If what you are wanting to tell me is that it is unchristian
to fling yourself slavering with lust on to two innocent women,
I think," said Harry, firmly, "that you're probably correct,
although I would not claim to be a theological expert. It's not
only unchristian, it's a lot of other things besides and . . ."
"Wait, Harry. What I mean is, supposing, on the other hand,
I was a Greek. Suppose I had made love to uvo women . . ."
THE FIG TREE 91
"The way you keep saying that over and over again makes
me think of charades," said Harry. "I'm sure it's a clue to the
proverb we've got to guess."
"If I were a Greek, in the old days," Joe persisted, "I'd come
here to this temple, all washed and perfumed, in a clean white
garment, with a wreath of roses on my head."
"Roses?" said Harry, and laughed.
"Well, maybe I haven't got the facts right. What would I be
"Roses suit me fine," said Harry and laughed again. "Go on."
"Then I'd raise my hands to the goddess, like this," said Joe,
copying a gesture he remembered seeing on a Greek vase, "and
I'd offer a prayer to her. 'Goddess,' I would say, 'I have just
made. . . .' "
". . . love to two women," Harry supplied, "one in bed and
one in a fern-clump. What would you say then? "
Joe let down his hands. "I'd say, 'Thank you, Hera. I rather
enjoyed it,' " he said, with great simplicity.
Harry was silent.
"You see, Harry, I wouldn't have a sense of sin. The goddess
wouldn't be looking down at me and saying, 'What have you
been doing and don't do it again.' I remember how Uncle
George used to tell me that the Greek religion was a pure, joy-
ous worship of the powers of the universe. It wasn't going in
front of a magistrate, as the Christians made it. Uncle George
used to say that the Greek religion was just a beautiful theory
about what made the universe tick. It had something open,
fresh and childlike about it. Standing here, I do feel Uncle
George was right."
"Ho yes?^^ said Harry. "Ho, yes? Then let me tell you your
Uncle George never read the books he fobbed off on you." He
searched rapidly in one of the volumes he \\'as carrying and
92 THE FIG TREE
unfolded a long chart, covered with what appeared to be a
genealogical tree. "You want to know how things really got
going? Eh? Well, just look here," he said, pointing to the chart.
"It seems that Uranus — that was the god of the sky — had his
balls cut off. They were cut off by one of his sons, who he
had previously eaten. Don't ask me to explain that, ask your
Uncle George. Anyhow, here was this Uranus with his balls
cut off, and they were thrown into the sea. I don't know how
the sea was created, and I'd rather not be pressed on the ques-
tion. The answer might not be nice. Well, from these balls
Aphrodite was born: and by a series of matings and love-affairs
that would make a chicken farmer shade his eyes in shame, so
were all this mob of gods, goddesses and heaven knows what
that you see here in the small print. Now as a theory about the
evolution of the universe, I admit that I've heard some damned
sight silUer ones put up by renowned physicists. But you can
tell your Uncle George that if a child of nine came along to
me with that story, I'd have the hide off him. And talking of
what makes things tick," he said, stubbing his finger at another
part of the chart, "look down here. You've heard of Nemesis,
haven't you? It was the Greek equivalent of Einstein's formula
of energy and mass. Do you know what happened to Nemesis?
Zeus chased her to the end of the earth, where she turned into
a goose and he turned into a swan and they mated. Probably in
a fern-clump. Changing into animals seemed a popular form of
making love. Look at this bit here. Poseidon — he was the god
of the sea — fell in love with Demeter — she was the goddess of
the earth. So they pop into bed together. Just before they turned
out the lio^ht, she changed into a mare and he changed into a
horse. Why? Just to make it more interesting, I suppose. And
what happened from that Httle get-together? Well, what do you
think would happen? She gave birth to one daughter, and one
THE FIG TREE 93
horse. It seems that the Old Man of the Sea was rather disap-
pointed by this outcome, or so it says here, because he married
again. This time he picked on Amphitrite. Probably learning
from experience, he didn't change into anything, and neither
did she. They had six sons. But it didn't turn out any better.
All six of the sons raped their mother. So Poseidon drowned
the lot of them — shocked, I suppose, to learn of such goings-on
in his family. Meantime, Joe, our little Aphrodite, — remember
her? — hadn't been letting the grass grow under her feet. She
got herself married to Hermes, and produced a nice Httle fam-
ily. One of them was Priapus, and the other was Hermaphro-
ditus. I gather from this chart, that the names, so to speak, sug-
gested themselves to the children's doting mother. I could go
on, but I won't, because I know you have an aversion to Hsten-
ing to too many facts. But all I can say is that if your Uncle
George considers all that pure, fresh and childlike, then he
must be quite a card when it comes to telling a smoking-room
Nobody likes to hear a close relative called a fool, even if he
privately believes his relative to be a jackass. Joe summoned all
his abilities to defend his Uncle George, if not from convic-
tion, then from a sense of honour. A thought came to him — an
increasingly frequent thing with him since he had met Harry.
He mustered his best Yale manner. He even drew in his stom-
"I should like," he said, "to hear all that again." He paused.
"In Greek," he said.
"Because, my dear Harry, there's no denying you have a very
vivid way of putting things. But your vocabulary — oh, I ad-
mire it: I suppose you must have learned it after Sunday school
94 THE FIG TREE
was over — your vocabulary, my friend is Anglo-Saxon. Now
my Uncle George once told me that the Greeks spoke the most
perfect language ever devised by the mind of man. It was won-
derfully supple and expressive and nobody has ever succeeded
in writing verses which sounded so grand and so beautiful.
My Uncle George quoted some verses from Homer, I think it
was, to prove his point. Now it seems to me that if Homer had
told the stories that you have just told me the effect — forgive
me, Harry, comparisons are odious, I know — but it seems to
me that the effect would have been more — ah — cultivated."
He pulled up his trousers and sat down on a block of stone.
He put his hands on his knees. He looked at Harry, smiling. He
felt he had done rather well. Harry's expression was blank.
Then Harry drew a long breath. A light came into his eyes.
"Did you think it was beautiful?" he said, in a humbly en-
quiring tone. "The poetry that your uncle quoted, I mean."
Joe was delighted to see that his little thrust had brought
down some of Harry's bumptiousness.
"Confidentially, Harry, when Uncle George quotes Greek,
as he did very frequently before they gave him the job of mak-
ing the thing that goes wrong in missiles, it always seemed to
me that he was saying over and over again . . . wait a minute
... I must remember the line I made up . . . ah, yes." He
deepened his voice, " 'O,' he said, ^behold! That coxcomb's gone
and hoist a block of gingham'. That was the sort of sound it
"But I've got no ear for poetry. I've no doubt that to a sensi-
tive listener the thing sounds sublime."
"I should have liked to have heard your Uncle George re-
cite," said Harry. "Just for five minutes."
"Oh yes," said Joe, affably. "I wish you could. I mean when
THE FIG TREE 95
I Spoke of sensitive listeners, I wasn't excluding you. Oh, dear
"Because," said Harry, ignoring him, "at the end of that five
minutes I would like to read your Uncle George a passage from
this admirable compendium of useful knowledge," he said, tap-
ping an open page of the book in his hand, "which is called a
Handbook of Greek Studies. It says, I quote, 'The one cer-
tain thing about the pronunciation of the Greek language is that
our own way of speaking it is purely arbitrary. We may be
quite sure that if we quoted one line of poetry to a classical
Greek, he would find our accent totally incomprehensible, and,
in all likelihood, risible.' Risible," said Harry, closing the book,
"is a very nice word. Scholarly, I call it. Like your uncle."
"Harry," said Joe, rising, "that settles it. There is a limit to
one's duty to one's family. For all I care you can chase that
charlatan of an uncle of mine three times round this temple and
pole-axe him on the high altar to the sound of flutes. I quite
see that that classical gentleman has been having me on a string."
"Like all the rest of the classical gentlemen, if you ask me,"
said Harry. "Not that I blame them. If every time someone tells
you he's cleverer, brainier, and better educated than you are,
you just open your mouth and nod your head, he's bound to
take advantage of you. Look at us — the scientists, I mean. You
put us on a pedestal, bang your foreheads on the ground and
say, 'Speak, O Mage!' And we speak. We speak with the volu-
bility of a charwoman invited to describe the twinges she gets
in her joints. Among the things I remember scientists saying is
that if anybody split the atom the world would blow up in a
chain reaction. Very convincing it was. Then there was the
man who said he'd worked it out that we'd all starve to death
by 2050 A.D. Gave me quite a turn, he did, when I was a boy.
He quite altered my life. Just for the sake of curiosity, I went
96 THE FIG TREE
over his arithmetic a little while ago. He'd got his sums wrong.
I don't suppose he even tried to get them right. And it seems
to me this classical racket's just about the same. Chaps like your
Uncle George and all the rest read a few books that they like
and then say what's expected of them for the rest of their lives.
The rest of us say, 'How scholarly,' and give your Uncle George
honorary degrees for saving us the trouble of using our brains."
"He was just about to get one when the family made him the
general manager of the missile plant," said Joe.
"Whereas," went on Harry, "if they told the truth, they
would tell us what sticks out a mile to anybody who takes the
trouble to open an honest book, that the Greeks were fluent
liars with dirty minds."
"Oh, come, come," said Joe, protestingly.
"And that," said Harry, "I did not learn behind the chapel
after Sunday school, but inside it during the service. Old Rev-
erend Peebles said it in a sermon. Real down on the Greeks, he
was, and he could read their language, too. I've never forgot-
ten what he said, and it looks as though he was right." Harry
picked up the chart of the gods and scanned it, shaking his
"Yes, but wasn't it one of the great virtues of the Greeks
that they called a myth a myth and not a dogma? At least I
seem to have heard it said. I mean your Reverend Peebles prob-
ably believed every word of his religion. But I don't think the
Greeks believed in their religion at all."
"No?" said Harry. "Well, what about this? Let me see," he
said, putting down one book and taking up another. "It was
in the chapter on Sicily. I remember reading it up in the car
because I thought we might do a trip . . . ah!" he exclaimed.
"Got it. It's a footnote." He read it attentively, mumbling a
THE FIG TREE 97
little. "Yes. It seems the Athenians had a war on with Syracuse.
They sent two of their best generals across the water to
fight it. But the day after they left, the Athenians discovered
that some clown had gone round in the night mutilating some
statues of the gods. I suppose that's scholarly for knocking off
their packets. Anyway, these intelligent, balanced, sceptical
Athenians who knew a myth when they saw one, yelled,
'Blasphemy!' as one man. Like a meeting of the Sunday Ob-
servance Society it must have been. Then they decided that it
was Alcibiades who had done it. So what do you think they
did? They sent a fast ship to arrest this general on the high seas
and bring him back for trial. The only person who seems to
have behaved with a grain of commonsense in the matter was
this same Alcibiades. He went absent- without-leave and joined
up with the enemy. That left Nicias to fight the war. He gave
battle just outside Syracuse but lost it. Why? Because between
the two armies was a temple to a god to whom this egregious
pillar of the church was particularly partial. He wouldn't let
his soldiers harm it. He not only lost the battle: he lost the war
and his army, who were sent to the quarries. He was subse-
quently very proud of the way he conducted the campaign,
particularly the temple bit."
"Generals are always proud of their most disastrous mis-
takes," said Joe. "I noticed that when I read mihtary history at
Yale. Unfortunately I wrote it in an examination paper and
that, I think, is why I was flunked."
"That's just a red-herring," said Harry, severely. "You don't
want to admit that you're wrong. But you are. Reverend Pee-
bles, the Old Bull of Bashan, from what I can recall of him,
would certainly be willing to lose a battle for a church parade.
But nobody would let him. Then there's Alcibiades. What have
you to say to that?"
98 THE FIG TREE
"Nothing," said Joe. "You've made your point with me
"Good," said Harry. "I'll give you Plato and Socrates and
all that crowd," he said, expansively, showing that he could be
generous in victory. But Joe said:
"You don't have to, Harry. As a matter of fact, I know some-
thing about them already. One day when I was looking through
Uncle George's books to see if there was just one that I could
bring myself to read — George was coming over to stay a
month, I remember, but he never made it — I came across a
book called PLATO'S SYMPOSIUM, or THE BANQUET.
The sub-title naturally attracted me, so I put it beside my bed.
I thought it might be interesting to know what the Greeks ate.
Well, I read it from time to time. I hadn't got more than a
quarter of the way through when I felt in my bones that some-
thing was very wrong. I know a good deal about banquets, and
one thing I was sure of, Greeks or not, nobody ever talked as
these characters talked over a table. So I turned to the intro-
duction to find out something more about the book. Well, I was
right. The thing wasn't meant to be real. It was a literary con-
fection of Plato's. One of the principal characters was Socrates
— another, by the way, was your friend Alcibiades — and the
piece purported to be a record of his remarks. Now being a
victim of what you call the classical racket, I had always thought
that Socrates was one of the world's greatest men. Mind you,
I knew nothing whatever about him . . ."
"Aha!" said Harry.
"And to my surprise," went on Joe, "I found there was prac-
tically nothing to know. Scholars, if you'll forgive the word,
have been working for years to establish one thing that Socrates
must have said himself, as distinct from something a writer
put in his mouth. Do you know what they discovered?"
THE FIG TREE 99
"Sweet," said Joe, savouring the words, "Fanny Adams."
"He might have said the things they wrote, but it's much
more likely, so I understand, that it is ail a beautiful legend —
or lie as you would say — got up for the purpose of political
propaganda. Plato and his set were what we would call authori-
tarians in their views. But the rest of the Athenians weren't. So
there you are. You have committed mayhem on their religion,
I have disposed of Socrates, so all we've got left to say in praise
of them is that they were fine artists."
"Oh, artists,'^ said Harry, with profound contempt.
"There speaks the authentic voice of the Reverend Peebles,"
said Joe. "Come, let's walk a bit. These stones are getting hot
now the sun is on them."
They walked down the Sacred Way, and came to some ruins
that once had been the forum. There was a great confusion of
chambers, corridors and blind alleys, built in the days when
the Greeks had gone and Paestum had become a Roman city.
Harry went from chamber to chamber, examining the walls.
"What are you looking for?" Joe asked.
"I didn't know the Greeks went in for that sort of thins^."
"Maybe they didn't. But this forum is Roman. It reminds me
of Pompeii. And Pompeii is as full of them as a brothel."
"What a wide range of experience you have," said Joe, with
gentle malice. "Now / have never been inside a brothel."
"Neither have I," said Harry. "That's just it. I used to be
rather ashamed of the fact. I thought I was a prig. Well, maybe
I am a prig at that. But that's my whole point. Or perhaps, to
be fair, I think it's probably the Reverend Peeble's point. You
see, with these Greeks and Romans it was sex, sex, sex, morning
noon and night. Sex in religion, sex on the living room wall, sex
in the theatre ..."
100 THE FIG TREE
"Sex at meal-times," added Joe. "The banquet is almost en-
tirely about a reprehensible affair between two men. Lord
Chesterfield . . ."
"Yes, you told me," said Harry. "Well, as I see it, that
couldn't have been all the fun that everybody desperately made
it out to be."
"Oh, I don't know . . ."
"Forget the fern-clump for a moment, if you can," said
Harry. "This wasn't a scrimmage in the woods. It went on.
It was organised. There were whole professions looking after
it. It was something you had to do to be thought well of like . . .
like . . ."
"Watching baseball," said Joe. "But you wouldn't know what
I mean, fortunately. Still, they must have got soTne fun out of
"Cooks spend their lives cooking food, and tasting it all day
long. Do they like it, as you like it?"
"I'm damned if they do," said Joe. "I've never had a cook
with a sensitive palate yet. They taste for the salt, or the cinna-
mon. Never for the whole sauce."
"Exactly. So my point is this. When those early Christians
came along and said, 'All this sex isn't fun and it isn't doggy and
it isn't smart. It's Original Sin,' — well, it was a push-over. As
soon as there were enough of them to make a tolerably sized
organisation, they walked off with Greece and Rome and the
Empire and the Emperor included. The prigs were right. The
prigs were just what everyone was waiting for."
Joe thought for a little.
"It's certainly ironic," he said, "that a man who holds the
views you do — and I don't dispute them, Harry — should go
down in history as the discoverer of . . . well . . . Wesley's
THE FIG TREE lOI
"The Copernicus of the bedroom," he said. "Ah, well, let's
hope the whole thing will wear off. I can't say this trip's got
our minds off sex, but I feel it's strengthened our moral attitude
towards the problem. Don't you?"
Joe did not answer. He was looking past Harry. He had a
most curious expression on his face.
"Harry," he said, "unless your figs are capable of producing
a mirage in broad daylight, there is a woman some forty yards
behind you, who is taking off all her clothes."
She had undressed as far as her chemise, and she was shaking
out her yellow hair. She was in an alcove of Roman brick-
work, part of some place of public resort on the far confines of
the ancient town. The alcove, which was one of many, faced
the prospect of the shore and sea. It had been built, perhaps, as
a place to go to catch the rare summer breezes.
She pulled her chemise over her head and threw it on a stone.
She revealed herself as a handsomely built young woman, deep-
breasted, long legged, and in spite of being brown from the
Italian sun, here and there it could be seen that she had a fair
white skin. She was dressed now solely in two exiguous cover-
ings, and even these she rolled into a still smaller compass. She
then stretched her arms above her head, and, shortly after-
wards, lay down on what remained of the marble paving. But
since a low wall divided the alcoves from the adjacent ruins,
she disappeared from Joe and Harry's view.
"It's an outrage," said Harry, indignantly. "This isn't a bath-
ing beach. It is a venerable monument of antiquity. It belongs
to the whole civilised world and that girl is using it as though
she's hired it for half-a-crown. I wouldn't be surprised if she
didn't put up a beach umbrella."
Instead of an umbrella, she raised one shapely bare leg in
102 THE FIG TREE
the air so that it was visible above the parapet, and then fol-
lowed it with the other. She then circled her legs and sema-
phored with them for a while.
"Hip-reducing exercises," said Harry. "Here, in the mid-
dle of Paestum!"
"Well," said Joe, "on the perimeter really. I didn't know you
thought so highly of the place."
"My criticisms of it were an objective search for the truth.
This," said Harry, climbing on a fallen column so that he could
see over the parapet, "is vandalism. She looks German. I'm sure
she is. They burned the ships at Nemi, remember? I think we
"Can you see better from up there?"
"I could,^'' said Harry, stepping down quickly, "but I have
seen quite enough. I am going straight to one of the custo-
dians to lay a complaint. No. Better. You go and lay a com-
plaint. Your Italian is more colloquial than mine. I shall stay
here and watch what she gets up to next. Bring the custodian
straight back so he can see with his own eyes."
"Well," said Joe, "I'm not much of a one for making protests,
but I must say I do hate damned tourists — the beach maniacs,
I mean — and I don't mind having a slap at them. I found three
of them having a picnic underneath my own terrace last year,
and they were quite huffy when I turned them out. Yes, Harry,"
he decided, as the legs went once again into the air and described
circles, "I think you're right. I'll get the man to come over and
He trotted back along the Sacred Way on his short legs,
crossly remembering the picnic party, the people in a row-
boat who had played a radio under his window all night, and
a dozen other vexations of living on the shores of the sea to
which visitors from all Europe come like lemmings each sum-
THE FIG TREE IO3
mer, but unfortunately (according to Joe) do not, like lem-
mings, drown in it.
He made his way past the Temple of Hera, and went to the
wooden building that stood to one side of the entrance turnstile.
He found a man in uniform, who alternately pulled on a
cigarette and yawned prodigiously. He was grey-haired, and his
long-nosed face had that expression of settled and sour gloom
that is so often the mark of the NeapoHtan.
"Guard," said Joe, "I am sorry to inform you that there is
a woman — a foreigner by all appearances, — who has taken off
her clothes and is sun-bathing in the north-west sector of the
The guard looked Joe up and down slowly. He studied Joe's
shoes. He priced them. It is again characteristic of the Neapoli-
tan that he believes he can find out everything he needs to know
about a stranger from what he puts on his feet. Joe's shoes were
shabby, as they always were, because Joe did not like to draw
attention to his feet, which he thought absurdly small and dainty
for a man of his corpulence. The custodian decided that Joe was
"Sunbathing?" he said, looking up. "Yes. I know. She likes
it." He paused. "I like it, too," he said. "Something for me to
look at besides rows of bloody columns."
"But this is a celebrated place," said Joe. "People come all
across the world to study it — scholars, professors, experts. They
don't want a semi-nude woman cluttering up the landscape."
"Why not?" asked the custodian. "I'd say she was a sight for
their sore eyes. Besides, I bet she knows more about these
ruins than any of them. She's been here every day for a month.
Swede, she is. She says she lived here two thousand years ago.
It came to her one night, looking at the midnight sun or some-
thing. Nice girl, she is, too. Wishes me a civil good day, coming
I04 THE FIG TREE
and going, and offers me a cigarette. No trouble at all. Not like
some foreigners who buy a ticket and then think they own the
place. One of them will be wanting me to shift the columns
round a bit to meet his taste better, I shouldn't wonder." The
custodian stared at Joe with his mournful eyes.
"My friend over there," said Joe, a little weakly, "wants to
make a protest. In the name of civilised people everywhere,"
he added, with a little attempt at a bluster, which made no im-
pression at all on the melancholy custodian.
"There's no reason why he shouldn't," said the custodian.
"He should write a letter to the Superintendent of Antiquities
of the Province of Salerno."
"Will he do something about it?"
"Certainly he will. Since the lady in question is a Swede and
a Swede is a foreigner he will send the letter on to the Bureau
of Strangers of the Prefecture for suitable action. When they
look up her files they will find she isn't a resident but a tem-
porary visitor, so they will send the letter up to Rome to the
Department of Tourism for handling."
"Well, they ought to take action," said Joe. "They ought to
take action in a lot of instances in my opinion."
"They'll take action all right," said the custodian, still with-
out any change from his melancholy expression. "They'll see
that the incident took place in a scheduled monument so they'll
send it to the Department of Fine Arts. Don't ask me where
it'll go after that because I've never followed one further. Any-
way, it'll be about November then, and November's pretty
chilly round these parts, so I daresay she'll have packed and
gone. More's the pity, I say. I like her. And so," he said, a trace
of a smile appearing for the first time on his gloomy face, "does
your friend, by the looks of it."
He pointed. Joe turned. In the north-eastern corner of the
THE FIG TREE IO5
ruins he saw the girl, now dressed in some sort of wrap, walk-
ing slowly along the end of the Sacred Way. Harry was walk-
ing beside her and his arm was tightly round her waist.
Someone rattled with a coin on the turnstile.
"Customers," said the custodian. "I must be going."
Joe mumbled something in reply and then set off at a run
toward Harry and the girl. But the Sacred Way was long and
Joe's legs were short. By the time he had come to the end of
the way, they had disappeared.
Joe searched frantically for them, stumbling into ruined
houses, tripping over marble blocks and ducking into brick
tunnels. But they were not to be seen. He found a gateway
in the wall, and a set of broken steps that led to what was left
of a rampart. He climbed the steps and stood on top of the
wall. He looked round him. He could see the whole range of
the ruins, the beach and the sea. A large party of visitors was
just making its way to the Temple of Hera. The beach, it
seemed, was deserted.
Then Joe saw Harry and the girl lying underneath some
juniper bushes that grew in the sand-dunes near the wall. They
were in a close embrace. It was too late, Joe reflected, for even
a pal to do anything to save Harry. He climbed down from the
For the next half-hour, he patrolled the Sacred Way, on
guard to warn his friend if the party of visitors should be ap-
proaching his trysting place.
The visitors went round the principal temple, and left, shep-
herded by a restless guide who kept looking at his watch. Once
more the ruins were deserted. Joe walked for a while among
them wondering what he should do for the best. He recalled
that Harry, in a similar situation, had sounded the horn of the
I06 THE FIG TREE
car. But his car was too far away and there was no road to bring
it nearer. He thought of going back to his vantage point on the
wall and throwing, perhaps, warning stones.
Harry would be grateful. But then there was the Swede. It
was clear that she was a woman with a mind of her own. Would
she resent being stoned in the middle of an embrace? Would
she perhaps stone him back? He settled, at last, for going to
the gateway in the wall and calling out to the sand-dunes,
"Harry! It's time we were going!" He looked fixedly in the
direction opposite to that in which he knew Harry was to be
found, and he called three times. He felt he had done his duty.
He went back to the Sacred Way to wait.
Ten minutes passed, and Harry did not come. Twenty min-
utes passed, and forty. The sun shone down fiercely on the
ruins and Joe sought the shade of a wall. He sat down. He
caught himself dozing. He got up and decided to go to the en-
trance turnstiles where he remembered that there was a small
room with a counter for selling postcards and some chairs. It
would be cooler and more comfortable to wait there.
When he got to the turnstiles, the Neapolitan custodian
came out of his ticket office to meet him.
"Ah, there you are," he said, "I was just coming to look for
you. Your moralistic friend has left a message for you. He
isn't feeling well and he's waiting at the bar across the road.
He looked for you, but couldn't find you."
"Thank you," said Joe. "I'll go over to him straight away."
"Looks pretty cut up," said the custodian. "I reckon she
gave him a slap round the chops."
"No," said Joe, sadly. "I'm rather afraid she didn't. Here's
something for your trouble." He left the man muttering his
thanks. He walked down the road. He saw Harry sitting, woe-
begone, at a table outside a small cafe. Harry was staring at
THE FIG TREE IO7
the ground; his hands were hanging limply between his legs.
His hair was in disorder and an empty cognac glass was beside
Joe looked at him with compassion. "I must be very gentle
with him," he said to himself. "After all, poor Harry, in a
way, has suffered a fate worse than death."
He crossed the road and joined his friend.
It was on the way back to Salerno that Harry came to his de-
cision. On the right hand of the road lay a great arc of hills
and between them, cool and blue in the distance, were the peaks
of the spine of the Apennines. Harry watched them for a while.
Then he said:
"Joe. Stop the car. I've made up my mind."
Joe put on the brakes.
"I'm going for a hike," said Harry.
"A hike?'' said Joe. "That's quite the most hideous of all
your ugly words, Harry. Do you mean you want to get out
and walk a little? By all means. I'll follow slowly in the car."
"Not where I'm going," said Harry. He pointed to the
hills. "I'm going to get as far away from roads as I can."
"But Harry," Joe protested, "you can't go for a . . . a . . .
walking tour in the Apennines. It's unthinkable. They're much
too wild and lonely."
"The wilder and lonelier the better. I've ijot to get fresh
air into my lungs, Joe, fresh mountain air. Maybe it'll blow this
awful thing away. Come with me," said Harry, but without
any great enthusiasm.
"I've never walked two miles in my life," said Joe. 'Td only
be a nuisance. Well, if you've made up your mind, let's go and
have luncheon and buy some things and . . ."
"I don't need to buy anything and I'll get some lunch at
I08 THE FIG TREE
the first village I pass. I'm setting off now, Joe. Right away.
It's the only thing to do. I'm sorry you're not coming with me.
But to tell you the truth, it was going to be pretty shaming,
driving home with you, after all the things I said to you on the
way here. No, Joe. I'll go off and I'll be back home tomorrow.
I've hiked before when I was in trouble."
"Is there anything I can do for you?" Joe asked, anxiously.
"How are you off for money?"
"Plenty," said Harry, producing his wallet.
"Have you got your passport?"
"But my dear fellow you can't go wandering about Italy
without your passport. They won't let you in hotels."
"Then I'll sleep out or knock on someone's door."
"But if something happens, Harry. Have you got anything
to identify you?"
"Will tliis do? It's a letter from Pozzo."
"I suppose it will have to," said Joe. "But . . ."
"There's one thing you can do for me. Tell the Director to
stay on at my house. He'll be delighted. He thinks I'm the
biggest thing that's happened in his provincial little life. Oh
yes — and lend me a map."
They said goodbye. Harry strode off down a path that led
straight into the heart of the hills. Joe drove homewards.
When Joe arrived at the village near which he lived, he felt
tired, and hungry and lonely.
He saw Isabella sitting in her garden and he stopped the car,
thinking to say a few words and then to drive on. She was de-
lighted to see him. She saw that he was tired. She divined that
he was lonely, and he admitted that he wanted something to eat.
She cooked him an omelette. They ate it together. She gave
THE FIG TREE IO9
him some coffee. They drank it together. Then they went to
bed and made love.
At that very moment Harry was sitting on a hilltop. He was
munching bread and olives and from time to time he took a
swig from a bottle of country wine.
He drew in a great breath of fresh mountain air and slowly,
luxuriously exhaled it. He put back his shoulders.
"It's passing off," he said, aloud. "I swear the filthy thing is
passing off. And to think that my old headmaster was right
all the time. All I needed was some vigorous exercise."
Joe lay in bed beside Isabella, tackling a moral problem. The
afternoon sun crept into the room between the bars of the
green shutters on the window that looked out to sea. The win-
dows that opened on to the garden had its shutters folded back
and Joe could see an oleander tree covered in its first blooms.
The room was filled with the sleepy quiet of a Mediterranean
afternoon. It was a good environment for tackhng a moral
problem — peaceful, relaxed, undemanding — if only one could
remember for ten consecutive minutes what the problem was.
Isabella stirred on her pillow. Joe's mind wandered luxuri-
ously. He reflected that if only he had known that there were
women who did not automatically light cigarettes after mak-
ing love, he might have been to bed with more of them. He saw
with approval that there was not even an ashtray in Isabella's
room. She would make as good a wife as she made a housekeeper.
Joe stared at the strips of sunlight in the ceiling. "Ah, yes,"
he said to himself, "a wife. That, of course, was the problem."
A little later he said:
no THE FIG TREE
"I'm thinking . . ." He paused.
"Yes, Joe. What about?"
"Well, about love and that sort of thing.'*
"Oh, Joe. Not afterivardsr
"But what else should I be thinking about?" said Joe, be-
"Well, as for me," Isabella said, "I think about the house-
hold accounts, and gardening, and the letters that I ought to
have answered. I couldn't say what men think about: whether
it's time to buy a new car, perhaps." Seeing Joe frown, she
went on, "I mean, Joe, one thinks about making love for hours
and days and even months before it happens. And when it does
happen, the most lovely thing about it is that you do not have
to think about making love any more — at least, for a time."
"But surely," said Joe, "if a man makes love and then imme-
diately starts thinking of buying a new auto, he's behaving ex-
actly like an animal."
"I wonder," said Isabella, dreamily, "what sort of animal
would think about buying an auto after making love? I know:
a French poodle. One of those white ones, with jewelled col-
lars, that seem to live in cars all their lives. Or perhaps, you
can think of a better one."
"I'm thinking of something quite different," said Joe. He was
thinldng, in fact, that every decent instinct in liim told him
that he should confess to Isabella just what had happened to
him. On the other hand, he had given his word to Harry that
he would not tell anybody at all. That was the moral issue. He
shut his eyes against the sunlight and the oleanders and did
his best to deal with it.
After some considerable thought, he opened his eyes again
and looked at Isabella lying calmly and reposefully beside him.
"Put it this way," said Joe. "When a man and a woman
THE FIG TREE III
make love — I mean while they're actually in each other's arms
— they think about each other, don't they?"
"No," said Isabella, punching up the cushions so that she could
lean against them. "They think about themselves."
"You mean he thinks about himself and she thinks about
"Of course. How else could a husband and wife who've been
married for years still make love together. If they thought
about each other, they'd be fighting within five minutes."
"Yes, I suppose that's true," said Joe, thoughtfully. "Go on
talking, Isabella. Do, please. I've such a lot to learn. What with
being thought a fool and having an excellent butler, now that
I'm middle-aged, I've led a sheltered Hfe."
"Well," said Isabella, "everybody talks about making love
as though it's a ... a churyvmy thing," she said, remembering
a word from her English sojourn. "But it isn't, really. It's . . .
the thing itself . . . just that^ I mean . . is about as personal
as waving to a passing train. There's a general feeling of bon-
hommie to nobody in particular. What matters is getting what
you want preferably on your own terms. Women — and always
remember that women are silly chits, Joe — are always dreaming
of love from a stranger. The fact is that if they weren't so
vain they'd realise they never get it from anybody else."
"Then I needn't have worried," said Joe, half to himself.
"No," said Isabella, "you needn't worry at all."
"All the same, when a man asks a woman to marry him,
surely he means, 'My darling, let us get married because vou
are the only woman in the whole wide world that I shall ever
want to go to bed with.'.^"
"He does," said Isabella. "Then he needs a church, an organ,
a ring, a sermon, a breakfast and about a hundred people in
their best clothes to drive into his silly head what a thundering
112 THE FIG TREE
lie he's got to live up to. And if he dodges these, there's the law
about alimony to do the same thing for him."
"But why did he tell it in the first place?" Joe asked.
"I think he says it because he hopes it will be true," said Isa-
bella. "He hopes he will only need one woman all his life. It
will leave him more time for running his business, or practising
his golf, or catching up with his reading. Joe, you know you're
rather an exception. Most men haven't got the passionate na-
ture you've got. They like to think they have. But I've come to
the conclusion that their favorite piece of furniture isn't the
bed; it's an armchair."
"You think I'm different?"
This so disturbed Joe that he got out of bed and began dress-
ing. He sat down to pull on his socks. Holding them in his
hand, he said:
"Suppose that a man was just like you say, but he took a pill
or something that gave him the strength of ten."
Isabella got up herself and put on her dressing-gown. She
sat at her dressing-table and began brushing out her hair. She
looked at Joe in the mirror. He seemed more than ever like a
round-faced baby. She laughed.
"I think Minu's sheltering you a lot too much. Surely, Joe,
you know that all that's nonsense. There are no such pills. It's
the purest superstition."
"Yes. But suppose someone invented one. After all, they do
wonderful things, today, don't they? I mean the philosopher's
stone for changing base metals into gold was a superstition,
wasn't it, but Harry tells me it's an accomplished fact today."
"Well, suppose, then," said Isabella. "What then?"
"That's just the point. What then? What would happen?"
"I can tell you exactly," said Isabella, "because I've been
THE FIG TREE II3
translating a bit about it in my book. Margherita della Querela
did just that thing in 1306. She wasn't a full della Querela: she
came from a collateral branch of the family. She was a bit
crazed, poor thing, and fancied herself as a witch. She an-
nounced that she had invented a potion which would make men
irresistible to women and give them full powers to cope with
the situation. In no time at all, she was arrested, tried, and Joe,
they burned the poor thing at the stake. Of course, witches
had been selling love-potions up and down Italy for years —
they still do, in fact — and nobody had taken very much notice.
But, you see, these were potions for making a man fall in love
with you^ the buyer. No harm was done. Margherita's potion
was a menace to every married woman whose husband might
get a chance to buy himself a phial of it. There was a riot of
outraged wives in front of the duke's palace. He was forced
to jail her and when it came to her trial, the women packed
every inch of space in the hall and howled down every sign
of mercy on the part of the judges. So she died, God rest her
soul. But why do you ask, Joe? Has some wise woman in
Salerno sold you a powder made of newts' tails and . . ."
"Let us finish dressing," said Joe, hastily, "and go and sit in
the garden. It will be beautiful there as the sun goes down."
So they went and sat together under the oleander tree. Joe
asked no more questions. It was, indeed, beautiful at sun-set,
and a cool breeze rustled the oleander and blew some petals
down on them. Later, the moon came up. Joe kissed Isabella.
He kissed her again and again. Then he said, in Isabella's ear:
"My darling, I am seized with a general feeling of bonhoviviie,
and I feel that I would very much like to wave at a passing
With that, they went indoors again.
FOUR nights after Harry had begun his hike, the Parlia-
mentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Andrea
Pozzo, was sitting up in bed deploring his fellow-countrymen.
This was because he was an Italian of executive ability. He
liked to get things done. There are very few such Italians: they
are greatly respected by their fellow-countrymen, who spend
a great deal of time and thought in seeing to it that they never
succeed in getting anything done at all. This is a sort of in-
surance policy, since in very recent times an Italian with con-
siderable executive ability had to be shot and hung upside down
from a lampost before he could be stopped doing things. Pozzo
had something of this man's drive: he had something, too, of
his appearance, for he had a massive head and striking eyes.
But he was a much nicer man and far too good for shooting
and hanging upside-down. He had been stopped doing things
by the gentler method of being democratically elected to a
democratic parliament where, to make things doublv sure,
he had been given a post in a democratic government. The
dead dictator, from his lampost, was no less capable of execu-
tive action than Pozzo from his desk in the Ministry.
Il8 THE FIG TREE
It was true he had been allowed to set up the laboratory that
made the trial sample of Harry's acid. But he had not been
given funds to cover the bills. These bills were now coming in:
and Pozzo's memoranda demanding money were going (as the
custodian at Paestum could have warned him) from the Ministry
of Finance to the Ministry of the Interior, from there to the
Ministries of Development, Labour, Transport (there was a
garage to be paid for) and Health, and now it rested with the
Ministry of Education to get the Minister's confirmation that
the site did not cover remains of archeological interest.
He was thinking gloomily of how he could explain this to
Harry Wesley, who, with his Anglo-Saxon efficiency, would
not be able to understand so Italian a confusion. Yet he must
be kept happy. Everything now depended on his figs — every-
It was then that the telephone rang with the long, shrill sound
reserved for urgent calls from the Ministry.
Pozzo swore, and answered:
"This is the night operator. I have an urgent call for you."
"Who is it?"
"The Englishman, Excellency," said the operator.
"Pozzo? Is that Pozzo? This is Wesley: Harry Wesley. Pozzo
for God's sake help me." There was a click as the operator with-
drew himself from the conversation, and then Harry's voice,
high-pitched, his Italian in shambles: "Pozzo, I'm . . . Christ,
what's the word!"
"Speak English, Mr. Wesley. I shall understand. What on
earth has happened?"
THE FIG TREE II9
"I've been kidnapped."
"Yes. By Calabrian bandits. They're standing on either side
of me now. In black hats. Armed. For God's sake do some-
Pozzo shook the sleep out of his head.
"Mr. Wesley. Listen. Can you speak freely?"
"Yes. I think so. They said they'd let me talk to you so long
as they kept me covered."
"Where are you speaking from?"
"The police station."
"Good," said Pozzo. Then, dropping into Italian, he swore
again. '^Madonna/ What do I mean, 'good.' Harry, do you mean
the police force is conniving at this?"
"There isn't any force. Just one copper. He's a decent chap
I think, but they've got him covered, too."
"How did you get into this mess? No. Don't answer. Tell
the policeman to speak to me."
"All right. Only do something," said Harry. There was a
pause, the sound of men's voices, and then a voice heavy with
the accent of Calabria.
"Giovanni Carrano, constable of San Lorenzo, Doctor, at
Pozzo summoned up all his most official manner. "You are
speaking to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of
Agriculture. You will address me as Excellency, without fail."
A respectful murmur came over the wire.
"Carrano; speak carefully and keep your wits about you.
Are you a local gendarme?"
"How big is San Lorenzo?"
"Six hundred souls. Excellency."
"In the mountains?"
120 THE FIG TREE
"Right in the mountains, Excellency."
"Now listen, Carrano. I want you to go to the nearest Cara-
binieri barracks and. . . ."
"Excellency, I kiss your feet, but there is no Carabinieri bar-
racks. Two of them come from Potenza."
"Wednesdays and Saturdays."
"My God," said Pozzo. "It is true what the foreigners say
about us. We are still in the Middle Ages."
"Never mind. How did this Englishman get into this trouble?"
"He was on a walking tour."
"Walking! Sometim.es I think the roads of England must all
be unfit for wheeled traffic, they walk so much."
"Never mind. Who are these bandits? If you cannot answer
say, 'Excellency, the line is bad I cannot hear you.' "
"I can hear Your Excellency's esteemed voice very well," said
the constable. "They are not bandits. They are my relatives. To
be precise, my brother-in-law, my father-in-law and my wife's
cousin. They are respectable people."
"Only shot-guns, and they have a licence to hunt, fully paid
up and stamped for this year." There was a pause. "Yes. Yes»
Thank you, Giorgio. Excellency?"
"They have all just put their hunting licences on the table
under my eyes, so I can assure Your Excellency on the bones of
St. Francesco that they have a right to carry guns."
"But not to point them at visiting Englishmen in however
eccentric a manner he may arrive, even walking."
"It is not his walking they object to."
THE FIG TREE 121
"What is it, then?"
"A thousand apologies for the word," said the constable, "but
it's his " The constable used a word in dialect that
came ringing through Pozzo's receiver. Pozzo understood it
very well, as did every Itahan. Pozzo's mouth fell. While he
struggled to find something to say, he heard a voice of con-
siderable authority say, in the background, "Giuseppe, that is
no language to use to a gentleman like His Excellency. How
many times since you were a little boy have I told you not to
use bad words. Give me the telephone before His Excellency
reports you for being an ill-educated pig." Then the voice came
nearer and Pozzo heard.
"Excellency, this is Don Ugo Vespasiano. I am the parish
"Good evening, Don Ugo," said Pozzo. "This is His Excel-
lency Doctor Pozzo, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister
of Agriculture. As far as I can gather your parishioners are hold-
ing, in defiance of the constitution and to the shame of Italy, a
foreigner of English nationality and a scientist of international
fame. Will you explain why?"
"Excellency, this is a poor parish and I am a humble priest.
You will excuse me if I do not use language suitable to Your
Excellency's rank. May the blessed " The priest's voice
was lowered in a mumbled prayer, and then, fortified, he said
with admirable firmness. "I did not know that the foreign
gentleman was a distinguished scientist, but even scientists are
sons of Adam and it is as a son of Adam that he has presented
himself to this village. Not to mince matters. Your Excellency,
he came walking on his feet all the way from Salerno and asked
for food at the house of the worthy family of the Amodios.
There he instantly paid court to the daughter of the house, a
member of my choir, called Rosa. With this Rosa, he has already
122 THE FIG TREE
spent three nights in pursuits which the Church can only recog-
nise within the bonds of matrimony. Her family are now in-
sisting that he does right by her."
"Her family?" Pozzo asked. "You mean the men standing
"They are carrying guns," said the priest. "But they assure
me that they are going hunting."
"Er . . . quails, Your Excellency."
"At this time of night?"
"You have to start early to get the best position at sunrise.
Quail, as Your Excellency no doubt knows, without a humble
parish prist telling him, fly out of the rising sun and . . ."
"Is this Rosa married?"
"Thanks be, no. Excellency."
"To whom?" There was a pause.
"A — well, to somebody. A young man. He does not come
to Mass on Sundays. He . . ."
"Where is he now?"
"In the hills. He ran off like a madman, taking his gun wdth
"Oh, did he? Don Ugo. Which do you, as Rosa's spiritual ad-
visor think that Rosa should marry; the young man in the hills,
or this distinguished foreigner?"
"I . . ." said Don Ugo, then stopped. He began again, and
once more stopped. "The foreigner," he said, with some uncer-
tainty, "would appear to be well supplied with . . . er . . ."
THE FIG TREE 123
"Yes. So I thought. And, of course, he is clearly a gentleman."
"I am glad you think so."
"A Protestant gentleman," said Don Ugo, hastily. "Of course,
if he were not a Protestant, I could not overlook his . . .
ah . . . precipitate . . . ah . . ." He broke off. "Excellency,"
he said, with a rather pleading sound. "I would like to consult
my bishop about your question."
"Where is your bishop?"
"Unfortunately he is hundreds of miles away in Ravenna at-
tending a family celebration."
"Don Ugo," said Pozzo. "I would not presume to anticipate
your bishop's judgement but . . . wait a moment. Let me speak
to the Englishman."
In a moment Harry's voice came through:
"Mr. Wesley, did you follow what we were saying?"
"More or less," said Harry, miserably.
"Is it true?"
"More or less."
"How do you mean?" said Pozzo, sharply. "Less than three
nights. Or more?"
"Pozzo, I cannot possibly discuss this over the telephone. It's
a matter of the gravest scientific importance, and as soon as I
know all the facts, I shall write a paper on it."
"Do. Do," said Pozzo. "Is she pretty?"
"She might be. I don't know. Yes, she is, I suppose but . . ."
"So you don't want to marry her?"
"Oh good God, no! For heaven's sake, Pozzo, don't get any
romantic notions about this awful business. You'd be quite,
quite wrong," said Harry, so emphatically that the receiver
rattled in Pozzo's ear. "Just get me out of this mess, and then Til
explain everything. Please, Pozzo, do something."
124 THE FIG TREE
"Don't worry, I shall," said Pozzo. "Trust me. Now give me
the parish priest again."
When Don Ugo had been brought back to the telephone,
"As I was saying, Don Ugo, I would not presume to take the
place of your bishop, but since he is in Ravenna, what do you
think of this solution for your problem? I am now going to tele-
phone Potenza and ask them to send an escort of carabinieri to
bring Signor Wesley away. If you will use your influence in
your parish to see that all goes smoothly and that nothing hap-
pens that might cause scandal, I will personally promise that,
from funds at my disposal as Parliamentary Secretary to the
Minister of Agriculture, all of Rosa's expenses for her wedding
to her young man will be paid by my department, including the
price of a new suit for that reprehensible young man who does
not go to Mass. What do you think?"
"Well," said Don Ugo, with the unmistakable tone of a
peasant driving a bargain — "Well, you see, . . . ."
"^72^," said Pozzo, quickly, "a silver mug for the christening
of the first boy and,^^ he waited a moment, "a donation to the
. . . er . . . ah . . ."
"Restoration of the apse," said Don Ugo, promptly, and
then burst into profuse compliments, which ended: "I thought
that such admirably paternal acts on the part of government
could have happened only under Fascism."
"On the contrary," said Pozzo, "the relations of Church and
State have never been happier than under our new democratic
"It is exactly as Your Excellency is so condescending to say,"
said Don Ugo.
"Well, then, good night, Don Ugo. Please ask the distin-
guished foreign scientist to speak to me once again for I must
tell him of what we have arranged."
THE FIG TREE I25
"Immediately, Your Excellency. It has been an honour to
speak to Your Excellency."
"It has been a pleasure to speak to so understanding a person
as yourself, Monsignor. You are a Monsignor, no doubt?"
"Ah," said Pozzo, and put all the mysterious power of those
in office into his voice. "I must speak to my uncle His Eminence
Silvio Cardinal Capuano. Good-night, Don Vespasiano. Good-
night and thank you."
Pozzo briefly explained his plan to Harry. He replaced the
receiver. He leaned back among his pillows and mopped his
forehead. He felt pleased with himself. The Englishman had
demanded action, and, in a twinkling, Pozzo had acted. He had
bought the Englishman out of his trouble.
Then he remembered that there were no funds and he
"And now," said Don Ugo, putting down the telephone and
turning majestically to the company, "we shall go to my house
and I shall tell those whom it concerns what His Excellency,
the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, has
said, from Rome, to me. You, you and you, come with me," he
said to the men with guns. "And," he added, turning to Harry,
"if you will honour my humble house with your presence, sir,
I would take it as a very great compliment."
Don Ugo was tall; he had cropped grey hair; and his face
was usually flushed red with exasperation at the ways of his
parishioners. He treated them much as a sergeant-major treats
his troops, except that he plainly had little hope that they
would obey him. He treated Harry, on the other hand, with
A girl of remarkable ugliness who was, it would appear, Don
Ugo's servant, was sent scurrying ahead. Don Ugo took Harry's
126 THE FIG TREE
arm and the three men in black hats fell in behind with the con-
stable. Don Ugo turned to the crowd which surrounded them.
"Nobody else," he said, "and if I catch anybody listening at
the windows, there will be no band at next week's festa. I shall
send the money to the missionaries." His face flushed a deeper
red. "I can, you know," he said, and with that marched him-
self and Harry to his house, taking long strides that made the
skirts of his soutain whistle.
The house was very small. The living-room had walls on
which the damp had made huge patterns. It was unfurnished
save for straight back chairs with wooden seats, a wooden cup-
board, and a large table. This, to Harry's astonishment, was of
the flashiest contemporary design, with metal legs and a trans-
parent glass top. Don Ugo patted it.
"Do you like it, signore?" he said to Harry.
Harry said it was in the very latest taste.
"So the shopkeeper told me," said Don Ugo, with satisfac-
Don Ugo had begun moving the chairs towards it when the
eldest man with the gun, who was Rosa's father, and who had
neither laid aside his gun or his hat on entering, said:
"The cloth, if you please, Don Ugo."
Don Ugo's face flushed again.
"The cloth," he repeated, bitterly. "The cloth." He blew
contemptuously down his nose and then bellowed, "Marta, the
The servant-girl scuttled in immediately, carrying a large
white table-cloth which she hastily spread and smoothed over
the glass top of the table.
"You," said Don Ugo to Harry, "being a man of taste and
education, like my table. My parishioners say it gives them
rheumatism in their elbows and spoils their shooting. Although
I should have thought that the amount of my wine they drink
THE FIG TREE 127
at it would have kept out bubonic plague, much less rheuma-
tism." He said this quite unsmilingly, but the three men laughed
heartily, and put their shot-guns against the wall. As a further
gesture towards good manners, they pushed their hats off their
foreheads on to the back of their heads.
There was now a great to-do about who should sit at the head
of the table, all refusing, until Harry, who would have wished
to have been in the darkest corner of the room, such was his
embarrassment, found himself presiding over the company.
The servant-girl brought red wine which was poured into
thick glasses. All, including the father of the girl he had se-
duced, politely drank his health. Don Ugo then began, in a
dialect which Harry could barely follow, to explain His Ex-
Harry gulped his wine and misery welled up in him.
"Two," he said to himself. (Level-pegging.) But God knows
what Joe's notched up since I left him."
It had happened so suddenly. He had been feeling free from
the monstrous thing and then he had asked for some food at a
farm. Rosa had served it. He had looked at her, in her thin
dress. He had looked so hard and so long that she had bent
over him and kissed him on the top of his head. "Naughty!" she
had whispered. "Naughty handsome Englishman."
He had made a tremendous wrenching effort of will.
"Is there," he had said, "anything of historical interest in this
Rosa had replied:
"Yes. The olive grove. At three o'clock. Everybody will be
taking their afternoon sleep."
She had then gone to the door and turning, she had given
him a look of abandoned love.
He had kept the tryst, three-quarters of an hour early.
128 THE FIG TREE
They had gone back to her house, and Rosa had insisted
that he stay. There was no public place to stay in the tiny vil-
lage, so he was given, cheerfully enough, the room which tour-
ing officials used who did not want to stay with the priest. Two
more afternoons had been spent in the olive grove and then
he had returned with Rosa to find the men with the guns. He
could not blame them. Rosa had made no secret of her infatua-
tion for him, ogling him at meals, lingering by his side, sighing,
and worse, glowing with pride in the evenings. When she had
seen her father and brother and cousin with their shot-guns,
she had screamed, pushed past them, and run into the kitchen.
She had come out almost immediately with her hair streaming,
her eyes wild, and a carving knife in her hand. But the ease
with which her mother, a frail, small woman had disarmed her,
persuaded Harry that guns were not as much of a surprise to
her as they were to him. "I love him," she had screamed. "If I
do not marry him, I shall kill myself and kill all of the rest of
you at the same time." It was the first time Harry had heard
the word 'marriage'. He was to hear it a great many more times
until, the constable having been called, he had shown Pozzo's
letter as evidence of his identity, and insisted that Pozzo be
reached on the telephone. Hours later, the call had come
It seemed that Pozzo had done the right thing, because the
men round the table, still speaking their barely comprehensible
dialect, were grinning at him, raising their glasses, and gen-
erally giving every sign of satisfaction.
At last they got up, took their guns, and each shaking Harry's
hand effusively, went out of the house.
When the men had gone away, Don Ugo said:
"Sit down, Mr. Wesley, and let us have a glass of wine to-
THE FIG TREE I29
gether in peace. First, let us take off this ridiculous tablecloth.
There, that's better. Now we can be comfortable. I have ar-
ranged for a bed to be made up for you here, if you will do
me the honour of sleeping the night." Seeing that Harry was
about to speak, Don Ugo added, firmly: "Putting aside false
courtesies, I must tell you that it is quite essential that you do
me the honour of sleeping here. If you sleep anywhere else,
Rosa's fiance will shoot you — before he has had time to hear
of our little arrangement with His Excellency. Whereas here,"
said Don Ugo, pouring out two more glasses of the heavy red
wine, "in my own house, you will almost certainly be safe.
After thirteen years of slaving in this parish I will not claim
that I have taught them that to shoot a man is wrong, but I
think that I have taught them that to shoot him in their parish
priest's house is disrespectful."
"I'm sure you have," said Harry. "As far as I can see, you are
the only man they do respect here."
"I manage to scare them, sometimes," Don Ugo admitted.
"I've got such a terrible temper. The priest who was here be-
fore me was a sweet, kind. Christian soul, who loved his neigh-
bours even if they were a pack of scoundrels, contraband run-
ners, drunkards, fornicators and thieves that they are in this
village. He moved one of the dozen heathen images which they
worship here under the names of good Catholic saints. So
they locked him out of his own church and chased him from
the village with dogs. The bishop had heard of my terrible
temper, so he asked me to take over. He said, frankly, that he
was sending me because he thought the villagers had thoroughly
deserved me. Besides," said Don Ugo, putting back his shoul-
ders, "I am a few centimeters taller than any other man in the
"You must have had a hard time keeping order in the place,"
130 THE FIG TREE
said Harry. He looked at his reflection in the table-top and
an idea began forming in his mind. He wondered for a mo-
ment how he could approach the matter with Don Ugo, and
then said, "How do you do it, Father? I mean, I suppose, since
they're all Catholics, they have to come and confess their sins
"Only if I've found out beforehand what they've been up
to: and I usually do. In that case I simply refuse to sign the
good conduct certificates they want to get their gun licences
until they come and confess themselves properly."
"Anything," said Harry, slowly, "that is confessed to you
is, of course, a secret, isn't it?'
"Oh no!" said Don Ugo, promptly. "I always make a point
of that in my Easter sermon. 'If any of you,' I say, 'comes to
me and tells me that you've committed murder, remember, my
son, that it is my duty and privilege to go straight to the tele-
phone and ring up the carabinieri, just Hke any other honest
citizen who wears trousers instead of a soutain. That,' I tell
them, 'is the law, both of the Church and the State.' "
"But anything else is secret?"
"What happens if someone confesses some very unusual sin?"
"Fortunately my parishioners aren't a very original lot. But
if it happens, say in a city parish, we priests just turn up the
book." He pointed to a row of books on top of the cupboard
and then, seeing his guest's interest, he got up and took a fat
paper-bound volume from the row. He banged the dust out of
it, saying, "You see what I mean?" and handed it to Harry.
Harry opened the book, thumbed through its pages and saw,
in the analytical table of contents at the end, a perspective of
human vices that earned his admiration. Then he said slowly:
THE FIG TREE I3I
"Father, I have, I think, committed a sin which is so new
that you won't find it even in this thick book."
Don Ugo smiled as benignly as his stern features allowed.
"No, no, Mr. Wesley, that is impossible. You are a Protestant,
I believe. Protestants do not admit sin, so you cannot have com-
"I think Protestants do admit sin," said Harry. "Indeed they
"No," said Don Ugo, beginning to flush, "excuse me but they
do not. Why do you think Luther and those others fought all
those terrible wars? They certainly didn't go to all that trouble
and danger to be sinners like us Catholics. What would they
have gained? No, Mr. Wesley, you are fortunate in not having
committed a sin, although perhaps you feel that you have
offended against your code as a gentleman,''^ he said, saying the
word in English. "That I know is the English Protestants' sub-
stitute for sin, and very good I think it, too. Very good, indeed.
Only it wouldn't do for us Italians. We are too hot blooded.
So we stay Catholics. Have some more wine."
"Whether I can sin or not," said Harry, quietly and seri-
ously, "may I tell you what it is I have done?"
Don Ugo did not answer for a moment. He looked at his
"I feel that I must tell somebody or else go off my head,"
said Harry, in the same earnest tone.
"Then, by all means, tell me," said Don Ugo. "Just a mo-
ment. I will get some biscuits and then we can drink and eat
and you can talk and I shall listen."
When the biscuits had been put on the table, Harry said:
"First, I must tell you what my work is."
That done, Harry told him about the fig-tree. Thus Don
132 THE FIG TREE
Ugo, a parish priest in a remote mountain village deep in the
south of Italy became the first person to learn of the strange
experience of Harry and Joe.
Don Ugo listened attentively. From time to time he asked
questions. When he understood that the experience could hap-
pen to anyone who ate the fruit, he nodded vigorously, as though
he had forseen this. When Harry had finished his story, he said
to Don Ugo:
"So there. I think you'll agree that it's a moral problem that's
not to be found in books."
"Not that one," said Don Ugo, pointing to the manual. "But
that's only meant for parish priests. But in Rome, in the Vati-
can, there is a large palace called the Holy Office. It's run by a
cardinal: a very powerful man he is, too. Now the job of the
Holy Office is to advise the Holy Father on what is right and
what is wrong."
"A big job," said Harry.
Don Ugo nodded. "They've been doing it for centuries,
which makes it easier," he said. "A Jesuit friend of mine once
told me that a few years ago when the question of artificial
insemination came up, they turned to their files and found they
had settled the whole thing in the seventeenth century. I can
quite see why you're worried ..."
"I'm worried about what I should do as the responsible per-
son," said Harry.
". . . and what I advise you to do is to go and talk to them.
You won't get to see the cardinal. He's too grand. But you
could talk to one of the monsignors. And," said Don Ugo,
heartily, "the splendid thing is that since you're a Protestant,
you needn't take the slightest notice of what you're told. We
poor Catholics have to."
Soon after that they went to bed. In the morning the cara-
THE FIG TREE I33
binieri came to escort Harry to safety. They were most re-
spectful. A mile from the village they drew up their car, and
one of them got down and opened the door for Harry to get
out. Harry looked through the window and saw Rosa, stand-
ing tearfully by the wayside for a farewell kiss. The carabinieri
were surprised and not a little scandalised when Harry brusquely
told them to drive on.
"The English," one said to the other, and the other sighed
Harry took no notice of them. He took no notice of Rosa,
who by cutting across country, managed to wave a final and
desperate appeal at a bend in the road. He took no notice of the
scenery. He took no notice of anything whatever because he
was deep in thought.
He was thinking, with an intensity he had not known before,
about the palace, where a cardinal settled what was right and
what was wrong, in the Vatican. By the time he got home, he
had made up his mind that he would go there.
CARDINALS are priests. They wear scarlet (which is called
the purple) ; they rank with princes of the blood, and they are
addressed as "Your Eminence." They are most august persons.
In Italy, you may not be rude to one. It is called "insulting the
Empurpled Ones," and it may land you in jail.
However, there are cardinals and cardinals. There are the
run-of-the-mill Eminences; these hold Sees that traditionally
have been ruled by cardinals, and so when they become Arch-
bishops, in due course the Pontiff sends them a cardinal's hat.
These only come to the Vatican when the occasion calls for it.
But there are some Empurpled Ones who are more deeply dyed,
as it were, than the rest. These are the cardinals who work in
the Vatican, and they are the most august of all. Even among
these there are grades, and the most august of the most august,
the Eminence of Eminences, was, at this time, the cardinal ^\ ho
ran the Holy Office that Don Ugo had recommended to Harry.
This cardinal's name was Rezzonico.
Don Ugo had never seen him. Don Ugo had never, in fact,
so much as kissed the ring of any of the Curia cardinals, as
these Eminences who run the Vatican are called. He had only
seen them from a distance, and distance lends awe to a cardinal,
138 THE FIG TREE
who does not, in truth, need to borrow much of it. Don Ugo
held the Curia in the profoundest respect, as do most priests
outside the Vatican and even some inside it. For all that, he was
responsible for the cardinals of the Curia receiving the most
subtle and effective of insults hurled at the Empurpled Ones
since the roaring days of the nineteenth century, when they
were sometimes pelted in the streets.
Three days after Harry drove away with his escort of cara-
binieri, each of the cardinals of the Curia received a present. It
was a large basket, heavily gilded and tied round with a scarlet
satin bow. Each basket was labelled with the full titles of a Curia
cardinal, beautifully handwritten on a vellum tag. The titles ran
into several lines. The baskets contained figs.
They were good figs — not Harry's, but good. There was no
indication of where they came from, and the donor did not
give his name. Had the anonymous joker thrown the figs one by
one at Their Eminences' scarlet robes, he could not have cre-
ated a greater effect, because on the evening before they arrived
Harry's and Joe's secret had been published to the world.
This was the work of a young man who lived in a town in the
mountains a few miles from Don Ugo's parish. He wanted to
became a writer. He had managed to persuade the editor of a
newspaper of extreme left-wing views to let him cover the area
of his home town and the surrounding hills. Since nothing ever
happened in these localities except murders, it was arranged
that he should be paid per murder per column-centimeter pub-
lished, including headlines. This worked out well enough when
the murder was done with a hatchet, for the headline writers
liked the word and spread themselves. But mere shootings barely
covered his lunch and his shoe-leather.
He was, therefore, always on the alert for a story that would
THE FIG TREE I39
be published and yet would not concern lowly-paid homicide.
He heard of Harry almost as soon as he arrived but he did not
know that he was a celebrated man. This was because nobody
in Southern Italy troubles to remember anybody's second name
unless it is a nickname such as One-leg, or Crooked-back or
Dirty. Thus the young journalist heard only that a Signor
Arrigo had stayed at a village. Then he heard that Signor
Arrigo had been escorted out of the area by two carabinieri.
He immediately went to the village and straight to Don Ugo.
Don Ugo was, at first, reluctant to tell the young man any-
thing. He admitted there had been some trouble with the vil-
lagers. He agreed that Harry had gone away under escort, but
a perfectly honourable one. Thus far, he said, he would go,
but further he would not. His definite manner of saying this
instantly told the young reporter that there was something
remarkable in the wind.
Instead of cross-questioning Don Ugo, the young man merely
said that he was a local boy who had never murdered anybody
and did not want to. He was earning an honest living by the
sweat of his brow, he said, just as his parish priest had always
told him he should. Then he silently showed Don Ugo his
frayed cuffs, his empty wallet and, lastly, the holes in each of
Don Ugo's heart melted. Here, indeed, was evidence that it
is the wicked who flourish like the green bay tree, and not the
good. He thought the matter over. After all, Harry had not
bound him to secrecy (Harry had thought it unnecessary. W^ere
not priests automatically bound?) Further, Harry had not con-
fessed. He had not been on his knees. He had not said the pre-
scribed words. Don Ugo had not been wearing his stole. Finally
— and here the stern lips of Don Ugo broke into a broad and
satisfied laugh — Harry was a Protestant.
140 THE FIG TREE
He invited the young man to share his midday spaghetti, and
over it, he told him all he could remember.
The things he had forgotten or had not quite understood
were easily found out. When the young journalist returned,
hot-foot, to his house, he found full biographies of Harry in
the back files of the newspaper, together with descriptions of
Pozzo's laboratory and of the opening ceremony.
He debated with himself whether he should go and interview
Harry. But there were two good reasons against it. He had not
got the bus fare for the long journey down the mountain and
round the bay: and secondly, he might be scooped. He wrote
his piece, put it in an envelope and posted it (for in Italy cir-
culations are small and the telephone expensive) in the box on
the next express train leaving Potenza for Rome.
He had put all the skill he had into his story and it was well
done. But still it might not have been published. The editor of
the newspaper was a man of systematic opinions. There were
things he was for and there were things he was against. He was
against America, priests, and big cars. He was for Russia, sci-
entists and low-priced motor-scooters within reach of the
working-classes. In his newspaper, motor-scooters were never
in the wrong in the report of a road accident, and scientists
(even if they were American) were never immoral. His experi-
ence was that to break such rules as these only confused his
loyal readers: and it was his belief that when it was necessary to
confuse his readers, it should always be done in an editorial.
The young man's piece may therefore have gone into the waste-
paper basket, save for one thing.
Italian newspapers are verbosely reluctant to come to the
point, like their readers. A good story is always begun with a
long preamble, working all round the subject or narrating its
THE FIG TREE I4I
background. The news comes at the bottom of the second col-
umn. The preambles are greatly enjoyed and that is the reason
why Italy is one of the few countries in Europe where one
may see men finishing their morning's newspaper in the stalls
at the Opera.
The young journalist's preamble had been a vivid description
of the scene of Pozzo's laboratory being blessed by a cardinal.
The editor, although he was for scientists, was heavily against
cardinals. He read to the finish. He telephoned for his leader-
writer. He talked to his leader-writer for half-an-hour. Then
he put on his hat and went to a fashionable fruit shop, and gave
a large order, under an assumed name, which he paid for in cash.
The Vatican is a small park in Rome, lying behind the Basilica
of St. Peter's and surrounded by a wall. It contains some large
buildings and two palaces, one of which is small and is occupied
by the Governor of the Vatican, the second being large and
the home of the Pope, who is usually the supreme master of the
But at the time that these events took place, he was not; or
at least he was its master only in name, because he lay sick
with an obstinate and exhausting illness that had kept him to his
bed for many months. His illness was a cause of sorrow to
multitudes, both those of his faith and those who did not share
it, for all the world held him to be a great and good man. Had
he played any part in the events of which I am writing, things
would have been different. But he did not. He was not even told
of them, for it was essential that he should not be disturbed or
worried. He lay, reverently tended and guarded from any in-
trusion, in his summer palace on the Alban Hills, where, it
was hoped, the purer air would aid his recovery.
142 THE FIG TREE
Thus the Vatican was run, at this time, by the Curia cardinals.
There were only five of them, for the Pope had been too ill
to replace those who had died. Of these five, one was in charge
of the Office of the Propagation of the Faith and had little to
do with the rest of the work of the Vatican, and one, as we
shall see, was on the shelf. Of the three remaining, none had
the energy, the brains and the authority of Rezzonico, who
from the Holy Office, ran the whole place.
The newspaper, carrying the young journalist's story of
Harry (with an editorial comment) was available at midnight.
By seven in the morning, all five of the cardinals of the Curia
had received their figs. Rezzonico's were delivered to the Holy
Office, which is just outside the walls of the Vatican. They
were taken in by the porter and sent straight to the monsignor
who was Rezzonico's secretary. The others were delivered to
the Gate of St. Anne, which is large and guarded by Switzers
but which is, in fact, the Vatican's tradesmen's entrance, where
they were collected in due course by the cardinals' servants.
The most piquant of these gifts was, of course, the one in-
tended for Silvio Cardinal Capuano, because he had blessed the
laboratory and was Pozzo's uncle. This basket, which was espe-
cially fine and equipped with an elaborate handle, was received
Maria was a "Perpetua": that is to say she was a woman who
devotes her life to looking after a priest. She makes his meals;
she cleans his house, she darns his socks and she listens to his
troubles. She had looked after Silvio Capuano from the day
he had come to her parish to be the parish priest, when he had
taken up his quarters in two rooms no bigger nor more splendid
than Don Ugo's. She had looked after him when he had been
in charge of a seminary and he had Hved in an apartment. She
THE FIG TREE 143
had been his housekeeper when he had been made a bishop and
lived in a large house. She had continued to be his housekeeper
when he had been elevated to an archbishopric and Hved in a
vast and ancient palace. She was still his "Perpetua" now that
he was a cardinal. But once more she had only two rooms to
look after, for Capuano was the cardinal who had been put on
Maria knew this quite well. It merely deepened her devo-
tion to him. Maria was not awed by the Vatican. To the world,
it is a mysterious place which governs by spiritual authority
alone the religious life of one seventh of the human race. To
Maria it was another parish, another seminary, another diocese.
That is to say, it was a place where her master worked among
a number of other priests, most of whom, in her opinion, were
only out to make trouble and difficulties for him.
On the morning that the figs were delivered she woke at
six, and as she had done for fifty years, she said her prayers and
washed her face. She then knocked on the Cardinal's bedroom
door to wake him so that he could go and say his daily mass on
time. She tidied the main room of the apartment. When she
heard her master go downstairs and close the front-door be-
hind him, she watched out of the window as he walked to the
chapel. Satisfied that he was well and no slower or more bowed
than usual, she set about getting him his morning coffee. There
was no kitchen, so she opened a cupboard and took out a large
battered thermos-flask which she put into a shopping-bag. She
left the building in which she lived, and walked along the
asphalt paths of the Vatican, in the vast morning shadow of
St. Peter's. She took no notice of the church, because she \\as
silently reciting the rosary, her thin lips moving with the words.
It was a rosary with her own improvements; before each of the
meditations, she inserted a request that Capuano should pass
144 'I'^^ FIG TREE
the day happily and in peace of mind, "because, you know,"
she said, silently, "he is a saint." Without interrupting her
thoughts or her prayers, she said, "Good Morning," to a gen-
darme, nodded to a pale-faced young Swiss Guard, who was
yawning and rubbing sleep out of his eyes, and finished her reci-
tation just as she arrived at the Vatican canteen. There the man
behind the bar gave her a small cup of black coffee, which she
drank herself, sipping it slowly not for her own refreshment
but to make sure that the coffee in the urn was to the Cardinal's
taste. When she was satisfied that it was, she handed the battered
thermos-flask to the man behind the bar, who filled it for her.
Then she bought some bread, which she put together with
the battered thermos into the black bag.
She was walking back to the long tawny building where the
Cardinal had his quarters when somebody came running after
her and gave her the basket of fruit. When she was quite sure
that the handsome gift was really for Capuano, tears came to
her eyes. It was a long time since anybody, who was not of
his own family, had sent him a present. Curia cardinals are
quickly forgotten when they are dead. One of them, to remind
himself of the fact, arranged that he should be buried under
the floor of his own church, and that his memorial should be a
marble slab no more than twelve inches long and four inches
wide — big enough, that is, to carry his name and nothing more.
The same oblivion can overtake a Curia cardinal when he is
still alive, if by ill-luck, he has fallen out of favour. Thus, Maria,
who did not read newspapers, was overjoyed with the gilded
basket and bore it in triumph to her master.
"Look, Don Silvio," she cried (for she had never changed
his title since the first day she had worked for him), "someone
has sent you a beautiful present. There's no name — but isn't it
THE FIG TREE I45
He got up from his seat by the window. Maria thought how
more and more like a saint he looked as he grew older, with his
silver hair, his pale, soft skin, and his tranquil eyes. He took the
basket, and he smiled with pleasure.
"And I was feeling rather sad this morning," he said to Maria.
"I was sitting in the window, wondering what I was going to
do with the rest of the day. Now who could it be, do you think,
who's sent it?"
According to the pontifical annual. His Eminence should have
been a busy man. For the last three years he had been the car-
dinal in charge of what the annual called the Reverend Fabric.
That is the vast stone pile of St. Peter's Basilica. On the first
day of his appointment to the post, he had gone round the
church with the superintending engineer. He had made a sug-
gestion for repairs. The next day the engineer had called on
him. With profound respects and the aid of some beautifully
executed drawings, the engineer explained to His Eminence
that His Eminence's suggestion would cost approximately a
half a million dollars and probably bring dow^n the dome. Then
Capuano knew for certain what he had feared for some time.
He had not been given a new job. He had been put out to grass.
He had borne his dismissal with humble resignation. He was,
as Maria believed, a good Christian. Indeed, being a good Chris-
tian had earned him the red hat or so it was said. When he had
come to the Vatican, the monsignors had nicknamed him "the
missionary" because it was rumoured that the Holy Father,
plagued by factions among the cardinals, had brought him to
the Vatican to evangeHse the Sacred College and bring it back
to the Faith. His fellow cardinals quickly saw that he \\as in-
deed a saint and after due thought they found him a task that
only a saint could do. Each of the cardinals was the nominal
146 THE FIG TREE
patron of a long roster of orders of nuns and holy women. It
was agreed that when the abbesses and mother-superiors came
to the Vatican with their troubles, they should be told to take
them to Cardinal Capuano. His Eminence laboured, or rather
listened, for five years. Then his health collapsed under the
strain. He lay sick for several months and when he recovered
he found himself the cardinal in charge of the Reverend Fabric.
Cardinal Capuano had freely admitted that he was a failure.
But Maria would not. According to Maria, the whole thing
was an intrigue of Rezzonico's.
Rezzonico's post as the chief of the palace where right and
wrong was settled suited him very well. He had the figure for
it. He was tall; he was commanding; he had a large and opinion-
ated nose. He wore his purple as one born to it, and, in a sense,
The small boys of the North Italian town in which he had
been born were fond of playing at funerals. Whenever Rezzoni-
co's turn had come to conduct the ceremony, he always refused
to be a mere parish priest and insisted on being a bishop. One
day a real bishop, taking a stroll in the street, had come across
Rezzonico and his companions at play. Rezzonico was wearing
a paper mitre, and he was burying a cat. As soon as they saw
the bishop, Rezzonico and his companions had immediately
taken to their heels. But on the bishop's insistence, they had
been brought back and Rezzonico had been made to go through
with the rest of the ceremony. The real bishop was so impressed
with what he had seen that he called the boy to his palace. He
questioned him closely. A year later, he sent Rezzonico to the
best seminary in the area and paid his fees until he became a
The rector of his seminary told the bishop that his protege
THE FIG TREE I47
had done very well. He had shown great gifts. He had stood first
in Latin, in History, and in Theology. As for mathematics, in
forty years of teaching the rector had never seen any boy so
The rector was less happy about his spiritual attainments.
Rezzonico, said the rector, could write a Ciceronian essay on
humility without, the rector felt, knowing in the least what it
was. In his theological exercises, he could take both sides of
the dispute with equal facility and equal brilliance, but, in all
his time in the seminary, he had never once been known to admit
he was wrong. He was able to do calculations in his head with
astonishing rapidity, but while some people who have this gift
seem almost unaware of it, nobody could say that about Rez-
zonico. His morals were above reproach. There was not a black
mark against him. It seemed (the rector summed up) that the
Devil, like everybody else in the seminary, had respectfully
kept his distance. The rector, however, was fundamentally a
cheerful man and he told the bishop that he thought that a few
years as assistant priest in a poor parish among very humble
people would teach Rezzonico the principles of truly holy Hv-
ing, which the rector said he felt he had been unable to do.
The bishop replied that it was one of the glories of the
Church that she never lacked priests who lived holy lives, but
in his experience priests with a head for figures were as rare as
rain in the Sahara. He needed such a man himself. So, then and
there, Rezzonico was appointed by the bishop to be an assistant
to his Vicar-general, with the task of reorganising the diocesan
Rezzonico knew that tills was his great chance in life, and
prayerfully he took it with both hands. After a week of study-
ing the diocesan accounts, he had gone straight to the heart of
the matter. He saw that the real trouble was that the bishop
148 THE FIG TREE
could not do long-division, and invented every excuse in order
to avoid having to try. Within a month, the bishop had learned
to lean upon the brilliant young priest in every question involv-
ing arithmetic. Within a year, a neighbouring bishop tried to
steal his services; within two, the neighbouring bishop had
succeeded. Soon Rezzonico had invented a system of book-
keeping, which could be understood by bishops, and yet bal-
anced. The second bishop yielded to the entreaties of a third
bishop, the third to the pleas of a fourth, and thus Rezzonico
was passed on from diocese to diocese, leaving behind him
golden opinions and money in the till. Inevitably, so rare a man
was called to the Vatican.
But here he found a discipline sterner than any that his rector
had recommended. His gifts were appreciated: his influence
increased; but for twenty years he owed to no higher title
than that of a monsignor. This entitled him to a salute from the
Swiss Guard, but to very little else. He knew he was indispensi-
ble: but he was martyred by the prelates who knew it too.
He practised the Christian virtues of patience, humility and
self-abnegation in the ante-rooms of the Vatican until he had
a character like steel. It helped him to keep up with his studies.
Having nothing else to do wliile he waited, he read books on
theology, science, history, and politics — books which other
priests were too busy even to open. Noticing that the hierarchy
hardly ever read newspapers, he studied them assiduously by
the hour and soon became the best informed man in the place.
Tours of duty abroad in Europe and America had added to
his knowledge of the world and his power in the Vatican. By
the time he was sixty he had to give up his studies, because no-
body any longer dared to keep him waiting. When the offer
of a cardinal's hat came, he had at first refused it on the grounds
that it would not suit a man who had spent his life in such a
THE FIG TREE I49
humble capacity. But since tliis liumble capacity consisted, as
everybody well knew, in having run most of the Vatican for a
decade from behind the scenes, nobody took this very seriously.
After a decent interval, he bowed to Authority and, at last, con-
sented to put on the purple. Never had it fitted a man better.
While sitting in ante-chambers, he had discovered that the
only thing that can be perceived clearly through a closed door
are the shortcomings of the man inside. As a young priest, he
had been astonished to find bishops who could not do long-
division: as an old man he was barely surprised to find cardinals
who could do nothing at all. Maria was, therefore, wrong. Rez-
zonico had not actually intrigued against his brother-cardinal.
He was certain he was a fool; but he agreed that he might well
be a saint.
The Vatican is governed by the Sacred Congregations, which
are a series of committees of cardinals and others. While Ca-
puano had been ill, Rezzonico had reorganised them. He had
suggested Capuano's name charitably for those Sacred Con-
gregations which hardly ever met. To show his respect for
Capuano's spiritual qualities, he, by what he considered a rather
happy stroke, had suggested Capuano for the duties of looking
after the Reverend Fabric, a post which had been vacant for
several years. It conjured up a picture in his vivid mind of the
old man ending his days in the vast basilica, shuffling round it,
respected by all, and lovingly ordering the stuccoes to be re-
stored. Besides, there was the competent superintendent to see
that he could do no harm such as spending too much money,
nor come to any, such as falling off ladders.
That settled, Rezzonico forgot him, like everybody else, un-
til the day when the cardinals got their figs. Then he telephoned
him. Capuano was sipping his coffee, looking out of the w in-
150 THE FIG TREE
dow and nodding his head gently at notliing in particular; Maria
was chatting about the figs when suddenly they were both
startled by the sound of the telephone bell, a call, these days,
being a most unusual event.
The instrument was at the other side of the room, so to save
her master trouble, Maria went and answered it. She lifted the
receiver and bellowed, ^'Pronto/ Pronto! Prontor with the
full force of her lungs. She did this because that is how people
had answered the telephone fifty years before in her country
town, and she had seen no reason to change.
Rezzonico, at the other end of the line, held the instrument
away from his ear and looked across his splendid desk at Mon-
signor Di Pino, his secretary. "He still uses the instrument," he
said, shaking his head sadly, "like a peasant telephoning for a
veterinary surgeon to cure a sick cow." He uncovered the
"Is that Cardinal Capuano?" he said, respectfully lowering
"No," said Maria. "This is Maria."
The Cardinal changed his tone.
"I wish to speak to His Eminence," he said. "And this is
Maria tightened her lips.
"His Eminence is in the bathroom," she said. Her voice was
every bit as firm as the Cardinal's. The receiver clattered in her
ear, but she was not listening. She gently replaced it in its
bracket. Capuano said:
"Who was that?"
Capuano rose shakily to his feet in alarm.
"Why did you say I was in the bathroom?" he said, greatly
THE FIG TREE I5I
"To give you time to tliink," said Maria.
"Think? But what about?"
Tears came into Maria's old grey eyes.
"About whatever it is that you have done wrong," she said.
"But Maria," the Cardinal protested, "I'm not a parish priest
being telephoned by his bishop. I'm . . ."
At that moment the telephone rang again, and this time
Capuano answered it. There was an exchange of courtesies and
then for a time the rattle of Rezzonico's voice.
"I shall come and see you straight away," said Capuano.
There were polite protestations from the other end of the
telephone, but finally Capuano had his way. He put down the
telephone slowly. He turned to Maria.
"You were right," he said.
He told Maria to send for his car and went into his bedroom.
As all the world knows, cardinals dress very splendidly. The
robes, the skirt, the cross, the ring, the hat are most magnificent
in their effect. Kings have spent long hours endeavouring to
design for themselves a uniform that would outshine that of a
cardinal in full state, but they have never succeeded. But there
are times when a cardinal wishes to be modest. Then he dresses
in sober black save for red piping round the button-holes of his
soutain, a red stock, red stockings and a gold and scarlet band
around his hat. The splendour is still there but only ghmpsed,
like the noon-day sun through the slats of a Venetian bhnd. It
can be gazed upon, but borne. A full range of these princely
accessories hung in the cupboards of Capuano's bedroom. Some
of them were a little shabby: the shops that sell them near the
Pantheon are expensive and Capuano was not rich. Still, they
were serviceable: but he did not take them off their hangers.
Instead, he peered into the small mirror and combed his hair.
152 THE FIG TREE
He brushed some specks off his ordinary black soutain, took his
plain round hat off a peg and smoothed its furry surface with
his sleeve. He put the hat on his head carefully and squarely,
looking in the mirror to see that it was right. He stood by his
bedroom door for a moment, thinking what else was needed to
fit him for the encounter. He looked down at his shoes and
with a little cry of dismay, he saw that they were dusty. He
lifted the skirts of his soutain and, balancing himself a little
precariously, he rubbed the toe of each against the back of
his black socks. This done, he felt he was quite ready. Hearing
the sound of the car on the gravel outside his front-door, he
Two visiting nuns, seeing the small man in the back of the
long black car, thought that he was a parish priest being given
a ride by some indulgent prelate. They were astonished to find
that when the little parish priest was driven past the sentries
he was greeted with a crash of salutes. The car drove a little
way, then drew up at the gate of the palazzo where Rezzonico
Here, he was received with every requirement of the protocol
that governs the visits of cardinals to one another. The ritual
monsignor stood outside in the sun: other monsignors made a
ritual dash from the shadows of the doorway as soon as the
car came to a halt. Capuano's ring was kissed with the required
sweeping genuflections. He was conducted along the corridors
with a rustle of soutains like the wind among autumn leaves.
When he was ushered into the cardinal's room, Rezzonico
rose from his chair Hke the sun. He was in full panoply: scarlet
silk and white lace billowed away from his large frame, while
the great gold cross which hung from his neck on a golden
chain swung rhythmically in time with his stately progress
round his enormous walnut desk. Their Eminences met: they
THE FIG TREE 153
touched hands. The room was large and hned with red damask,
and as Rezzonico led his guest down the length of it to his chair,
Their Eminences chatted. It is perhaps surprising that car-
dinals are masters of small-talk, but on the great occasions of
the Church, cardinals are seen together in public and they are
minutely observed. They must be seen and heard to talk: they
must appear to be friendly and they must say nothing of any
consequence whatsoever. There were many people in the big
room, so now the two cardinals, as they walked towards their
chairs, smiled at each other and made conversation. Capuano
apologised for his old soutain. Rezzonico apologised for his own
splendour. He was, he said, due at a ceremony in an hour.
"I envy Your Eminence's busy life."
"I envy Your Eminence's peace and quiet. I don't think it
good for a priest to be as busy as I am, and one day I intend to
do as you do."
"I hope not. Two cardinals interfering with his work would
be more than the superintendent could bear."
The monsignors laughed, but Rezzonico smiled very briefly.
It is permissible for cardinals to joke about themselves in pubhc,
but this joke had too much edge to it to be quite proper. It was,
Rezzonico reflected, as they walked down the room, character-
istic of the whole man. He was modest and self-deprecating,
with just that little touch of excess which never failed to put
him in the centre of the picture. It was permissible, for instance,
for cardinals to go about the Vatican plainly dressed. In fact
it was encouraged. But as Rezzonico noticed, running his eve
over Capuano's soutain, his brother-cardinal's dress was so plain
that it had all the eclat of sackcloth and ashes. Rezzonico de-
154 THE FIG TREE
cided that it was time that they were alone. He nodded to Di
Pino. For a while the room was filled with a sussuration of
monsignors as they genuflected, kissed rings, took their leave
and left the room. Only Di Pino remained behind.
*'Let us go over and sit on the couch. We shall be more com-
fortable," said Rezzonico, adding to Di Pino, "Please telephone
for some coffee."
The two prelates sat in either corner of a vast couch, while
Di Pino whispered into the telephone. That done, the monsignor
took his seat modestly on a hard chair in the background.
Rezzonico put his hands to his face, and drew them down
slowly, massaging his eye-balls as he did so. He sighed deeply,
snuffing up a great volume of air through his opinionated nose.
Then he said:
"Now for this most unfortunate business. I scarcely know
where to start."
"With me it's best to start at the very beginning," said Ca-
puano. "People are always surprised by the amount of things
that I don't know. You said over the telephone that it was
about that factory I blessed."
"Laboratory," corrected Rezzonico.
"That's right. So it was."
"Have you seen this morning's newspaper?" said Rezzonico.
"Nor the day's before, I suppose?"
"Not even that," said Capuano, apologetically. "To tell you
the truth, I don't read the newspapers at all. There you are, you
see. I've shocked you already. I hope you don't think it's remiss
of me. With you it's quite different. With all the irons you've
THE FIG TREE 155
got in . . . that is to say, with the vast range of things you
have to deal with, it must be quite necessary. But I've found the
newspapers don't help me much in my job. After all, if the
dome of St. Peter's fell down in the night, I should hear it. It's
quite close by."
Rezzonico smoothed the silk on his lap and smiled:
"As Cardinal Niccolini was saying to me only this morning,"
he said, "your sense of humour. Your Eminence, is a blessing to
all of us. He said that it was something that the Sacred College
"That was kind of him."
"He is a great admirer of yours and as he went on to say,
if he had seen things written about himself such as they are
writing about you in the newspapers he would have retired to
a monastery for shame for the rest of his days."
There was a long silence between the two men. At length
Di Pino said, quietly, "Would Your Eminence care to see this
"Perhaps I'd better," said Capuano. He patted the pockets
of his soutain, and then he apologised, "I am very sorry, but I
have forgotten to bring my reading glasses."
Di Pino nodded. "With Your Eminence's permission, I shall
read you from this morning's 7/ Lavoratore.^ It is a Communist
journal, as you know, but it is the first to come out into the
open. If I may, I shall read you some extracts."
"His Eminence," said Rezzonico, "would prefer that you be-
gan at the very beginning."
"Quite so, Your Eminence," said Di Pino and obeyed.
Di Pino read in the soft tones he had learned in the Pontifical
Academy for reciting Latin. The young journalist would have
been well pleased. His opening paragraphs lost nothing through
being read as though they were a page in Tacitus.
156 THE FIG TREE
Rezzonico played with his ring. He watched Capuano's
face. Soon he drew through his nostrils a deep breath of satis-
faction. Capuano's saintly pallor had gone. He was blushing.
Monsignor Di Pino came to the end of the news item.
"Eminence," he said. "There is also a leading article."
"Read it, monsignor," said Capuano, in a voice that was
barely above a whisper. Monsignor Di Pino obeyed. He had
got half way through it when Capuano got suddenly to his feet.
"Stop," he said. He crossed quickly to Di Pino and demanded
to be given the paper. Di Pino, who had risen to his feet, handed
him the journal with a little bow. Capuano held it away from
himself to the full extent of his arm, and screwed up his eyes
in an endeavor to read it. The paper trembled.
"Who wrote it?" he asked. "Who wrote it?"
"The editor, I think," said Rezzonico. "At least, I feel sure
he gave it the final touches. I detect his style. In spite of his
politics, he is a highly educated man."
"The man is a fool, a rogue and a liar," said Capuano, and
the paper shook more violently in his hand.
"He is quite unspeakable," replied Rezzonico. "The only
thing that can be said in his favour is the picture he chose of
you — that large one in the middle of the front page is really
quite flattering. In the ones he prints of me, I always have my
mouth wide open and my eyes bolting out of my head as though
I am thundering a sentence of excommunication, which, of
course, is the impression he wishes to achieve. Give His Emi-
nence the magnifying-glass, Di Pino," said Rezzonico, "so that
His Eminence can see for himself."
Capuano spread the paper on the desk and, using the magnify-
ing-glass, studied the photograph of himself with a thurible in
his hand, in the act of blessing some glass apparatus. He went
on to read a paragraph or two of the leading article. Then he
THE FIG TREE I57
thumped the glass on the paper till Rezzonico feared that it
"The man is a liar," he said. "They explained to me quite
clearly what the factory was producing."
"The laboratory," corrected Rezzonico.
"It was an acid," said Capuano, ignoring him. "It was some-
thing that you injected into trees and plants to make them grow
faster. I remember they showed me some pictures of fruit.
Quite enormous fruit they were. I was very impressed. They
told me the name of stuff. It was an acid, a something-or-another
acid," said Capuano, banging the table once more with the
"It was," said Rezzonico, smoothing his silk skirt, which fell
over his knee, "an aphrodisiac."
"Then you beHeve this . . . this catch-penny trash," said
Capuano. He was unable to prevent his voice from trembling.
"I have always avoided reading cheap newspapers myself for
the good reason that one ends by taking them seriously."
"/," said Rezzonico, "read at least six newspapers every day
of my life, and I can assure Your Eminence that you are
right. They are most certainly full of trash."
Capuano sat down once more on the couch. The flush had
drained from his face. He looked at the tall, impassive man be-
"Then you agree that this is all a concoction? It is probably
the beginning of a new campaign against the Vatican."
"I think," said Rezzonico, nodding slowly, "that, once again.
Your Eminence is right. The figs would suggest a campaign. Of
ridicule, I should imagine. It is a powerful weapon against us."
"Ah," said Capuano, "the figs."
"We each got a basket, by messenger, this morning. You got
yours?" he asked, solicitously.
158 THE FIG TREE
*1 don't know who sent them. Do you? No. I see you don't.
A Roman, I think, must have been responsible. It is," said Rez-
zonico, with a disdainful Northerner's sniff for the vulgarity
of the south, "a typically coarse Roman joke."
"I have seen them making horns with their fingers behind
their backs when I have passed in a car," Capuano agreed. He
drew a deep breath. "Well, at least I am glad I have not made a
compete fool of myself. None of us can help what the news-
papers write about us. But at least the acid or whatever the
wretched thing was — at least that's all right."
"Ah!" said Rezzonico, smoothing his lap for a second time.
"Unfortunately, Your Eminence, it isn't. As I was about to tell
Your Eminence when you, quite rightly, lost your temper
with that abominable journal, last night we received by ex-
press delivery a letter from this English Vassily . . . Veezley
. . . how is it pronounced Di Pino?"
Di Pino told him. Rezzonico repeated it several times, care-
fully. Capuano held his breath.
"A letter," Rezzonico resumed, "from this Dr. Wesley. It
said that, in the course of his experiments, a moral problem had
arisen of great importance to those in the Church and those
without. He respectfully requested an urgent interview with
someone in the Holy Office. It is easy to put two and two
together. I mean," said Rezzonico, impressively, "to see Dr.
Veezley myself." He looked round his long nose at Capuano.
"Yes," he said, "an aphrodisiac, I am very much afraid. Di
Pino," he went on, cheerfully, "there is somebody tapping at
the door. I think they must have brought the coffee."
Maria had watched the Cardinal's car from her window until
it was out of sight. Then she made up her mind to find out
what had happened. Like the Cardinal, Maria did not read the
THE FIG TREE 159
newspapers, nor did she listen to the radio. She had long ago
decided that she could not find time for such things because
she was too busy looking after the Cardinal's affairs. It was
true that he had few wants, but he had innumerable relatives.
When the red hat had come (or so it seemed to Maria) these
had unanimously decided that their troubles were over in this
world, and probably in the next, too. These relatives were
Maria's special care and she spent long hours worrying over
them, separating the sheep from the goats, so as to be ready
after supper when the Cardinal answered his letters.
But although she did not read the newspapers, she had her
means of finding out what she wanted to know. It cost her an
effort. It meant going through the Gate of St. Anne, out into
the world. Inside the gate, she was Cardinal Capuano's Maria,
and the guards said "Good-morning" and "Good-evening." Out-
side the gate, as she weU knew, she was an ugly old woman
with grey hair who talked to herself in the street. Inside the
gate, she was the handmaiden they spoke about in the Bible:
outside, she was a woman who had wasted her life looking
after a priest. The men pitied her, or laughed at her: the women
showed her their children.
Still, that morning she put on her hat, and went. As she
passed through the Gate of St. Anne, the Swiss Guard put a
finger to his bonnet, as he always did. Then the Swiss Guard
winked, which was a thing that he had never done before. She
was well among the traffic and the crowds outside before she
got over her indignation. She wondered if there were some-
thing exceptionally strange or comic about her appearance. She
straightened her hat and tucked away her grey hairs. She pulled
down her dress so that it was less wrinkled. She determined
to be especially careful that morning in what she did. Her
family had always prophesied that she would end up as being
a crazy old woman. Perhaps that was what was happening.
l60 THE FIG TREE
"Perhaps it is, Ma," said a passing errand-boy, "and at your
time of life, too. Shame on you." iMaria walked on, pressing
her lips so tightly together to prevent herself talking aloud
that they went white.
She walked past the bright shop windows and gleaming
motor-cars, feeling shabby and old in the Roman sunlight. She
crossed the road, forgetting the traffic lights, and a policeman
in white blew his whistle at her. He pointed at the lights,
shook his head and wagged his finger comically at her. When
she took no notice of his warning, and carried on across the
road, she saw him shrug his shoulders and turn away. She
remembered that, once before, when crossing this same road
she had nearly been run down. Reaching the pavement, she
had heard someone say, 'Drunkards and old women always get
across the road in safety.' Walking still more quickly, she won-
dered if she were going to cry. It wouldn't matter. They would
think she was a widow; or perhaps a mother bereaved of a child.
But she did not cry. Instead, she lost her temper with her-
self. "Here you are," she said, aloud, "being sorry for yourself
and the Cardinal's in trouble. Who's going to help him if you
don't, I'd like to know?"
A man walking in front of her, surprised by her voice, turned
round and said, "Madam?" He saw the expression on her face,
touched his hat respectfully and walked off. To keep her mind
on her business, Maria took her rosary from her black hand-
bag and, holding it in one hand, told the beads with a cracked
thumbnail. By the time she had reached the place she was mak-
ing for, she was herself again.
It was a cafe on the corner of the street. Tables and chairs
were strung out along two side-walks: inside there was a bar,
and a place for eating. As Maria approached, a plump, elderly
waiter threw wide his arms in welcome, and shuffled out to
THE FIG TREE l6l
meet her. He guided her to a table and sat her down in a chair.
When she was about to give her order, he archly put his fingers
to his lips and disappeared into the bar. A little later he came
out bearing a long glass of green syrup, the one luxury that
Maria allowed herself. "With the compliments of the manage-
ment," he said, "to Sister Maria."
She had no right to the title, but it pleased her. She smiled
for the first time since she had left the Gate of St. Anne.
"Well, Enzo, and what is the news this morning?"
A long time ago someone had said to Maria, "Well, so now
your Capuano's a bishop, and from now on he'll never miss a
meal and never hear the truth." It was a saying that was com-
mon enough among the faithful, but to Maria it pointed out a
new duty. It was her job to listen to gossip. She had done so
to Capuano's great advantage. But when he got to the Vatican,
she soon found that the gossip there was of no use to her. She
heard a great deal about the other prelates, but nothing what-
ever about her own master. She had assumed that it was the
code of the place and looked elsewhere for her information.
She had found it in the Borgo.
The Borgo is that part of the City of Rome, which lies un-
derneath the walls of the Vatican, and it has for centuries
known a great deal about what goes on inside them. It prides
itself on looking with an amused, cynical and civilian eye on
the doings of priests, for it is here that the civilians who work
in the Vatican come to relax and gossip in the long summer
evenings. They go, above all, to the cafe on the corner where
Maria now sat sipping her glass of green syrup.
Enzo had always been very willing to tell Maria all that he
had heard. But this morning he made a gesture of extreme aston-
"FoM ask me, Sister Maria, for the news," he said. "What can
l62 THE FIG TREE
I, a poor little man with flat feet, who never leaves this cafe,
except to go home to bed, tell you^ Sister Maria? You^ who
took the Cardinal's coffee to him this very morning. What did
he say when he saw the newspapers?"
Enzo was talking very loudly in his excitement. People at
the other table turned and, smiling, looked at her. Men were
crowding in the doorway of the bar. One of them said: "Yes,
what did he say?" and laughed loudly.
"His Eminence hasn't seen the newspapers," said Maria.
Enzo said, "Have you?"
Maria replied, "No."
"She doesn't know. She hasn't heard," said Enzo, delight-
edly to the world at large. "Then I, Enzo, shall tell you. His
Eminence's nephew has gone into the patent medicine busi-
ness," he said. There was loud laughter from everybody in the
"What sort of medicine?" said Maria.
"What sort, what sort?" Enzo crowed. "This sort, Sister
Maria. Just one drop and even I, poor Enzo with the flat feet
and a wife and ten children, will be able to make love like a
sailor home from a cruise. Forgive me for saying such things
to a lady like yourself. But what harm can there be? Your
reverend master. His Eminence himself, has given it his blessing,
holy water and all."
He seized a glass of water and a fork and, intoning through
his nose, sprinkled the men in the doorway, to their uproarious
delight. When they had stopped laughing, Maria said, "What
is this nephew's name?"
One of the men in the doorway pulled a newspaper from
his pocket and consulted it.
"His name's Pozzo. Pozzo^s Pink Potency Potion,^^ he said,
"^5 approved by the clergy."
The laughter, now, was unbounded. Maria stared down at
THE FIG TREE 163
the green liquid in her glass. Pozzo was the Cardinal's favor-
ite relative and hers, too.
Rezzonico asked Di Pino to be so good as to read Harry's letter
aloud to His Eminence. Capuano Hstened until the end.
"Thank you," he said. "I agree. There can be no doubt."
There was silence for a while in the room. Then Capuano said,
with great simplicity:
"I have always known I was something of a fool. But I did
not think I would ever be so foolish as to cause scandal to the
Holy Church. Yet that is just what I have done."
"This Pozzo," said Rezzonico. "Your nephew . . ."
"Oh," said Capuano, quickly. "It's not his fault."
"Then you trust him.^"
"Of course. He is my favorite nephew."
"Ah!" said Rezzonico, "but the history of the Church sug-
gests that ecclesiastics should be particularly careful of favorite
"Does it?" Capuano stirred sugar into his now cold coffee,
absently. "I have never read much of it. I sometimes think that
the history of the Church should be left to those who do not
wish her particularly well."
"That is a profound thought. Your Eminence," said Rez-
zonico. "But," he added with a touch of bullying in his tone,
"I was just wanting to make sure that we won't have that
newspaper running articles for the next month about nepotism
in the Vatican. Not wishing the Church at all well, they know
a good deal of its history."
"Well," said Capuano, mildly, "he is my nephew. And I mn
fond of him. I did pay for his education. And as a matter of
fact I know he made great play with my name when he went
into politics. Have you no relatives, Rezzonico?"
"Several," said Rezzonico, sharply. "But they are still the
164 THE FIG TREE
small shopkeepers and clerks that they were when — when I
took holy orders. Not one of them is an Under-Secretary of
"Andrea isn't a very grand Under-Secretary. I think they
only put him in to balance a Liberal they were forced to take.
The nephew of a cardinal seemed a suitable choice, so Andrea
got the job." Capuano broke off. "There again, you see. Nepo-
tism. Nepotism of the first water." He drank his cold coffee.
"But all this business isn't Pozzo's fault. He's a good fellow.
You'd like him if you met him. He has something of Your
Eminence's drive and energy. But," said Capuano, pausing,
"he has no guile. No guile at all."
Di Pino stole a glance at Rezzonico to see how his master
had taken this gentlest of thrusts. Rezzonico's large nose was
a fraction higher in the air.
"No," Capuano went on. "It must be the fault of this Eng-
lishman. He has made some mistake. It is curious to think of an
Englishman making a blunder. It is more the sort of thing we
Italians expect to find ourselves doing. Yes, it is the English-
man's fault. But that doesn't excuse me in the least. But I know
what I shall do."
"It is most important," said Rezzonico, "that we do nothing
"It is most important that you do nothing precipitately," said
Capuano. "But for me the quicker the better. I shall take Car-
dinal Niccolini's hint. I shall retire to a monastery. He is quite
right. It is the proper place for a prelate in disgrace. I shall first
make a full confession of my stupidity and my folly. I shall
preach a sermon, I think. Yes, a sermon . . ." he said, his gaze
wandering abstractedly to the window. "Poor Maria," he whis-
pered. "It will break her heart."
"Your Eminence," said Rezzonico, firmly. "Will you please
listen to me for a few moments?"
THE FIG TREE 165
"Certainly, Rezzonico. Certainly."
"Your Eminence's withdrawal to a monastery would be
an act of deep Christian humility and personal reparation. I
greatly respect your decision. It does you great honour. Un-
fortunately, it does nothing whatever to solve the problem you
have set the Church. This liquid . . . this acid . . . this fer-
tilizer . . . whatever it is, is not only an evil thing. It is also
a very good thing. It is not only the work of the Devil. It is the
work of Divine Providence."
He paused to see the effect of his words. Capuano was most
suitably bewildered. Rezzonico went on:
"You have overlooked, if I may venture to say so, the fact
that this thing produces fruit of an astonishing size. It will be
a blessing to our farmers. It will bring prosperity to this im-
poverished land of ours . . ."
"That is exactly what they told me . . ." Capuano inter-
". . . it will be like manna from heaven to countless Italian
families," Rezzonico continued, "whose only other hope of a
decent human existence would be to emigrate to one of the few
distant countries that wdll still let them in. And this. Your Emi-
nence, is the thing you would have the Church condemn out
of hand because it is also a . . . a . . . stimulant. Your sermon
will undoubtedly be a most moving one. But within twenty-
four hours of its delivery, we shall have the whole country
about our ears. We shall be accused of snatchingr the bread
from the mouths of little children. We shall be accused of
obstructing the progress of science. We shall be accused of be-
ing bigoted priests with an unhealthy interest in sex. I trust
my plain speaking does not offend Your Eminence?"
"No ... no ... I am not offended," said Capuano. "I
confess it was something I had not thought of. And yet, if it
is the work of the Devil — and Your Eminence has admitted that
l66 THE FIG TREE
it is — then surely we must fight it, whatever the world will
say of us."
"In a long life of service to the Church," Rezzonico answered,
"I have come to the conclusion that one of the functions of
the Devil is to make priests use their brains. Consider for a mo-
ment. Your Eminence. You were born, I believe, in the South."
"I was born in Puglia," said Capuano, nodding.
"Then you have seen for yourself the poverty and misery
there. And as a priest you have seen the sins to which poverty
gives rise. I, too, for a time, have worked there. Incest, mur-
der, and horrors I shall not name because they are as familiar
to me as they are, I am sure, to you."
"It is true," said Capuano. "For three years I refused a bish-
opric because I thought my duty lay among those poor . . ."
He did not finish his sentence, but tears stood in his eyes.
"And yet this thing the Englishman has brought here may
bring these people, who have suffered the worst degradations
that can be inflicted upon a human being, into the light — into
the cleanliness, the hope, the moral resolution of a man who
is sure of two meals a day and food enough for his family to
see his children grow straight-limbed. Does not that thought
suggest to you that we should move with all caution in this mat-
ter? The thing is dangerous. Yes. But is the danger in it any
more than the danger which our mother Eve brought into the
world when she ate the fruit of the forbidden tree? Is it not
the same danger that the Church has fought since its founda-
tion, but fought by teaching men to restrain themselves, to
control their lusts, and to use their passions, however strong
they may be, to ends that are pleasing in the sight of God."
"But, Eminence," said Capuano, speaking slowly and hesi-
tantly, "it was not only for eating the fruit of that tree that
our first parents were driven out of Eden."
THE FIG TREE 167
"I have always thought it was," said Rezzonico, bringing
his great nose round to face Capuano.
"Then I must be wrong," said Capuano. "But surely there
was another tree."
Capuano raised his mild eyes to meet those of Rezzonico.
Then he quoted in the soft, sibilant Latin that priests speak
in the South, the verses that in English are, " ^The Lord God
said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to knoiv good
and evil: and no^w, lest he put forth his hand and take also of
the tree of life,'' " Capuano waited a moment, and then finished,
" ^and eat, and live for ever. Therefore the Lord God sent him
forth from the garden of Eden.'' Rezzonico," he said, "I am
afraid of this Englishman and the things he is doing. Were there,
perhaps, two temptations in the Garden? And is it now the
time for the second?"
He spread his hands wide. "I don't know. I feel, with Your
Eminence's permission, I would like to go and give the Devil
his due, and use my brains, as you suggest. I must have time
to think a little . . ."
"By all means," said Rezzonico, rising.
". . . before I go into the monastery," said Capuano, rising
as well. "Because that I am quite determined to do."
They walked together to the door. Monsignors ran down
the corridor as the door was opened. They formed a cardinal's
guard of honour and accompanied the two Princes of the
Church to the point where protocol allowed them to take
leave of each other.
Rezzonico returned to his room, Di Pino following him. His
Eminence's expression was composed and smiling until they
had shut the door, but once in the room he made no attempt
to hide his ill-humour. He strode up and down for a few mo-
l68 THE FIG TREE
ments, a magnificent and awesome figure in his scarlet robes.
Then he regained control of himself. He stopped. He turned
to Di Pino.
*'Well," he said, "at least His Eminence has one character-
istic of a saint."
"What is that, Eminence?" Di Pino inquired, respectfully.
"Pig-headedness," Rezzonico snapped. "And now he will go
off to his monastery and leave all the thinking for me to do."
He sat at his desk. He ran his hands over his face and massaged
his eyes. He sighed.
"Well, then, let's begin. Where is this wretched English-
"In the South, Eminence," said Di Pino and named the vil-
"And how are we going to get into touch with him there
without every newspaper in the land knowing it?" asked Rez-
zonico. "If we telegraph, the clerk will sell the message. If we
write, they'll steal the letter and photograph it."
"We could telephone the bishop, Eminence."
Rezzonico thought for a moment.
"Good. Please be so good as to do that. And scare the day-
lights out of him so that he doesn't go gossiping with his
Di Pino bowed and saying, "With your leave. Eminence," he
lifted the telephone. He spoke to the operator in the calm level
tones prescribed for making a call in the Vatican.
In the Ministry of Agriculture, however, at much the same
moment, the telephone operator's heart was in his throat. He
had never heard such barking since the days of Fascism. Terri-
fied by Pozzo's voice, he muddled the calls. When finally he
managed to connect Pozzo with an army general, he heard
Pozzo used the word "emergency" and, convinced that war had
broken out, he burst into hysterical tears.
THE FIG TREE 169
But Pozzo, enormously enjoying himself, was only demand-
ing that Harry's fig-tree be put under a heavy armed guard
with instructions to shoot any marauders on sight.
That morning Joe woke in his four-poster bed after a dream-
less night. He lay in bed for a while listening to the noise of
the sea below his villa. Then, it struck him that he had had no
dreams. He looked at his bedclothes. They were neat and or-
derly. He got out of bed. He looked in a mirror. He clapped
his hands like a happy child. He returned to his bed and rang
the bell for Minu. When his butler came into the room, he
found his master sitting up in bed and looking at him with a
most curious expression.
"Good morning, signor," said the butler.
"Good morning, Minu."
Minu went to the window to throw it open, as he always
did. "It'll be cooler today, signor," he said. "The north
wind's . . ."
"Never mind the weather," said Joe. "How do I look?"
Minu turned back towards the bed. "Look, signor?"
"Yes. Do I look as well as I did yesterday?"
"Minu, look again. Look closely."
"No, signor. I am sorry to say you do not."
"I don't glow with health, eh?"
"My eyes don't sparkle, eh?"
"No, signor. Are you feeling unwell, signor?"
"I feel," said Joe, solemnly, "as though I have recovered from
a lonor and dano^erous illness."
"That's strange, signor," said Minu. "I thought you've been
looking particularly well these last few days."
lyo THE FIG TREE
"Yes," said Joe, even more solemnly. "But that, I think, is
over. Thank God," he added, fervently.
Back in the kitchen, the cook's wife asked:
"And how's the old basket this morning?"
"iUuch as usual. Kept asking me to look at him. 'Look at me,
Minu,' he said. I ask you. At this hour in the morning, before
I've had my third cup of coffee. So I stared at his ugly mug and
I said, 'Signor, you look like something that the cat brought
"You did?" said the cook's wife, contemptuously clattering
the dishes on Joe's breakfast tray.
"One day I will, so help me," said Minu.
"Not while you play the horses, you won't," said the cook's
wife. "What did he want you to look at him for?"
"I dunno. He thinks he's feeling sick, or something. You
don't think I listen to the old fool's drivel, do you? As a matter
of fact," Minu added, thoughtfully, "he didn't look as well as
he did. If you ask me, the Countess has had enough of him.
And no wonder. A fine-looking woman falling for an old goat
like him. Well," he said, and sighed, heavily, "I suppose it's his
money she was after."
"I'm glad to hear it," said the cook's wife. "We don't want a
woman in the house."
"No," Minu agreed. "One's enough, God knows." With that,
he opened a racing newspaper and began making crosses with a
Joe ate breakfast. He bathed, shaved, dressed and then, to the
sound of an imaginary orchestra, he danced in a stately, eight-
eenth century fashion round and round the drawing room.
There was no doubt of it. The thing had passed.
He stopped dancing and ran his eye lovingly over the furni-
THE FIG TREE 17I
ture and the bric-a-brac in the room. For days he had barely
known where he was, so great had been the tumult in his flesh
and in his spirit.
"Now it's gone," he said, aloud, "it's like coming home after
staying a long, long time in someone else's house."
He walked out upon the terrace.
"But then, of course," he said to himself, "it was someone
else in my house, wasn't it?"
Then he heard a boy whistling. The boy was whistling
through his teeth. He was whistling through his teeth and
he was whistling an American popular tune.
All these things were strange. Boys along the coast rarely
whistled and never through their teeth. They sang, but rarely
in tune: and they sang only Neapolitan songs.
The whistling came from above Joe's house. He moved from
under a vine and looked up.
The whistling boy was Harry.
Harry saw him and waved. He put his hands to his mouth
"Joe! How are you feeling?"
"Wonderful," shouted Joe. "It's gone."
"Me, too," shouted Harry. "I haven't felt like this since I
was a boy. I was coming down to see you."
"No," shouted Joe. "I'll come up to you. I feel like some
They met half-way.
"When did it happen to you?" Harry asked.
"I noticed it first when I woke up this morning," said Joe.
"I didn't get much sleep last night. No, it wasn't dreams.
I was out on the terrace. Do you know what I was doing? I
172 THE FIG TREE
was cutting every damned fig off that tree and taking them
down to the sea in a basket and dumping them in the water. It
took me until three o'clock, but I was determined to get the
thing done. Then I lay on the bed to rest before having a
shower and undressing. I must have fallen asleep. I woke up
about seven and . . . well," said Harry. He grinned and once
more began whistling through his teeth like a street urchin.
Suddenly he stopped.
*'Look," he said. "There's a woman coming up the path."
"She's the milk-maid."
"She's pretty," said Harry.
"Eh?" said Joe.
"She's got a well developed bust," said Harry.
"Harry! For heaven's sake," said Joe, in dismay.
"She's got good hips on her," went on Harry, remorselessly.
"In fact, she's a dish."
"Harry!" said Joe, in a wail.
"I propose," said Harry, "that we make a scientific experi-
ment. We will both go up to this dish. We will both carry on
a light and flippant conversation with her. We will both gaze,
with all due deliberation, at her bosom and her other charms.
We will both observe the results."
"No, Harry," said Joe. "It's too much of a risk."
"It's the only way of being sure," said Harry, firmly.
"But supposing the whole thing starts up again?"
"Then we shall be martyrs to science. Courage, Joe. Think
of the man who discovered chloroform and tried it on himself.
Think of the men who injected themselves with serums . . ."
"They used rats," said Joe, obstinately.
"Unfortunately in this instance there is no way that a rat
can be employed. Besides, you object to experiments on animals.
THE FIG TREE 173
You told me so. Here she comes now. Forward, Joe, into the
Unknown. Forward on Man's deathless quest for knowledge.
Say something to her."
"What?" said Joe, desperately.
"Where are you going to, my pretty maid?" Harry suggested.
But the girl saved Joe the trouble by flashing him a wide smile
and saying, ^^Buon giorno, signori. Che bella giomataf
'-^Buon giornOj'' Joe answered, in a quavering voice. Seeing
the two foreigners looking at her, the girl advanced boldly upon
them. Joe fell back a pace, but he felt Harry's hand in the small
of his back.
"Four minutes by my watch," Harry whispered to Joe. "That
should be enough to tell." He smiled at the girl, who flashed
her eyes at him, having already flashed her teeth several times.
"Good morning. It is indeed a beautiful day," said Harry, in
careful and slow Italian. "I was saying to my friend that you
are so pretty you should be on the films."
Since this was exactly what foreigners said to country girls
in the movie-magazines which she devoured each week, she
knew just how to keep the conversation going. She was, in
fact, in complete command of herself for she had rehearsed just
such a meeting in her mind for years. She heaved her bosom.
She lowered her eyeHds. She said she was just a country girl,
but that Kfe was so narrow that sometimes she felt suffocated.
She stretched her neck: she slightly parted her lips: she showed
how she suflFocated. She said she always wanted to be an actress
and repeated the sentiment with every readily moveable part of
Her remarks were lost on Harry and Joe. Her words were
those of the magazines, but her dialect was that of the peasants,
who, in the South, are incomprehensible a mile away from tlieir
174 THE FIG TREE
birthplaces. But Harry observed her closely, nodding when
he thought fit, and Joe, curiosity overcoming his fears, did the
The girl was so convinced that she was making an overwhelm-
ing impression that she was taken aback when one of the two
foreigners looked at his watch and said something in English,
at which both men bid her a sharp goodbye. They strode off
side by side down the road.
"Feel anything?" asked Harry.
"Nothing at all," said Joe.
"Nor me," said Harry. He whistled a marching tune, and the
two men fell into step.
"Learned that tune in the Scouts," said Harry. "Used to play
a bugle. They were happy days."
They walked a little further in silence.
"Girls," said Harry, contemptuously. "Girls are soppy."
"Complete ivetSy'^ agreed Joe. "I can't think what all the fuss
"Especially that one," said Harry. "Wriggling like an eel."
"Awful," agreed Joe.
"Tell you what," said Harry, as they marched along. "Dare
you to shout 'Milk-ho!' at her."
"And I double-dare you," said Joe.
The milk-maid, watching the two men, was puzzled to hear
the young one shout a word in English followed by a long
yodelling sound. She raised her hand in reply, in case it should
have been meant for her.
"Look out!" said Harry. "She's heard us! Run!"
The milk-maid saw the two men, now, she presumed entirely
out of their senses, scamper wildly down the road together. She
dropped her hand and resumed her walk, frowning and suck-
ing her teeth in great perplexity.
THE FIG TREE 175
As Harry ran, he saw the path that led down to the rocks
from which Joe bathed. He saw some huts and a springboard.
"Joe!" he said, still running.
"Yes?" panted Joe.
Harry pointed down to the rocks.
"Last-one-in's-a-silly-fool! " he shouted, and bounded down
Joe was splashing in the water, and Harry was doing vertical
jumps off the diving board, holding his nose like a small boy,
when Isabella arrived to do her usual morning's work at Joe's
She heard them shouting. She went to the terrace. They saw
her leaning over the parapet and shouted their "good mornings."
"Harry," she called down, "you're in the newspaper. Have
you seen it yet?"
"I'll leave it here on the seat for you to read."
"I'll be up directly," shouted Harry.
Isabella gazed at both of them with a deeply thoughtful ex-
pression, as they climbed out of the water. Then she went in-
side the house.
Joe was dressed first, and came up to the terrace. He saw the
newspaper lying on the seat, but then catching Isabella's eye
through the window, he went straight in to her.
"What have they written about Harry, Isabella?" Joe asked.
She had got up from her desk when he came in. She looked
at him squarely.
"They have written, Joe, about Harry's figs," she said, with
"Good Lord. How much?"
"All that was necessary to make things quite clear."
176 THE FIG TREE
"But how could they have found out, Isabella?"
"It seems that Harry confessed everything in a moment of
depression to some parish priest in Calabria."
Joe was shocked.
^'What a thing to do! He blabs everything to a complete
stranger, while he absolutely forbade me to utter a word
to . . ." Joe stopped, in confusion.
"To me, Joe?" said Isabella.
Joe blushed deeply.
"I'm very sorry," he said. "Very, very sorry."
"So it wasn't just Harry who ate. . . . No," said Isabella.
"I suppose you both made a great banquet off them. I can see
"It was all rather hole-in-the-corner," said Joe, in a small
voice. "Minu bribed Harry's girl to steal one."
"And you ate it?"
Joe, not trusting himself to speak, nodded.
Isabella looked away from him. She said nothing at all.
Then Joe said:
"Isabella, I did want to tell you, you remember. I felt — it's
impossible to tell you how ashamed I felt. And I do still."
She looked back at him.
"There's no need to be sorry, Joe," she said. "In 1569, one of
the della Querelas of the Padua branch of our family . . ." She
stopped abruptly. She turned on her heel. She walked to the
desk, and riffled through some letters. She opened the book in
which the cook kept his accounts.
"There is something I must tell you about your cook, Joe,"
she said, briskly. But Joe said:
''What happened in 1569, Isabella?"
Isabella bent her head over the cook's book.
"It doesn't matter, Joe," she said. "I was only making it up."
THE FIG TREE 177
Harry came into the room, the paper in his hand. He looked
"Isabella," he said. "The Italian's too difficult for me, but from
what I can read of it, this doesn't look good. I can see my name,
and the picture of the Cardinal, but what worries me most is
seeing Don Ugo's name. Will you translate it for me?"
"Willingly, Harry," said Isabella, taking the paper. "But I
should tell you, as I've just told Joe, they have the whole story.
Your Don Ugo told them."
"Don Ugo!" exclaimed Harry. "The rogue! The scoundrel!
The traitor! The sneak!! I'll denounce him to his bishop.
I'll. . . ."
The other things Harry was going to do to him were lost
in a sudden pandemonium of sirens, klaxons, motor engines
and shouts that broke out over their heads.
All three of them went out on to the terrace. They saw that
the noise was coming from the road that led to Harry's house.
A platoon of troops was dismounting from a truck while staff
cars, police cars and a radio car, ran hither and thither, sound-
ing their horns. Army Headquarters had responded with alacrity
and dash to Pozzo's demands: in five minutes Harry's house and
the terrace on which the fig-tree grew were ringed with armed
soldiers, the roads leading to it had been commanded, and van-
tage points in the surrounding area had been efficiently occu-
pied by armed patrols. An officer, whose epaulettes flashed in
the sunlight, could be seen talking to Harry's orphan girl, who
appeared, even from a distance, to be hysterical.
Though it could not be observed by Harry, Joe and Isabella,
the consternation among the surrounding farmers was pro-
found. They bolted the doors of their houses and peered
through the windows. Their suspicions were confirmed. As thcv
had guessed all along, Harry was an excise agent: and, it would
178 THE FIG TREE
appear, a good one. He had observed their illicit doings, by
the light of his lamps, and now here was the reckoning. Some
of the farmers, with true Southern passion, prepared to sell
their lives dearly; others prepared to sell their friends. Harry's
orphan girl, in a torrent of words, told the Captain who
was questioning her everything she knew, except Harry's
whereabouts, which was the only thing that interested him.
She quietened down after five minutes sufficiently to point, still
sobbing, down to Joe's house to indicate where her master
could be found. The officer thanked her and made his way
down the hill.
He had almost arrived at Joe's front-door when he heard
footsteps and heavy breathing behind him. He turned to find
that he was being followed by the Bishop of Maiori in a state
of great agitation. Di Pino had obeyed the Cardinal's instruc-
tions. One of the functions of the Holy Office is to discipline
the clergy: Di Pino had kept the Bishop guessing for ten min-
utes on the telephone before he told him what he had to do.
In those ten minutes, all the Bishop's sins of omission — for these
were his only misdemeanours — had gone through his head.
What with the sea, the hot climate and the Bishop's natural in-
dolence, the list had left him a shaken man.
The Bishop and the Captain entered Joe's house together.
Church and State delivered their respective messages. Harry
was invited to the Holy Office the following day: Harry's house
was to be guarded as vital State property and the tree — this was
a little flourish of Pozzo's, with which he was well pleased — the
tree was to be considered a top secret. The Captain, saluting
politely, asked Harry if he could have the key to the door in
the wire fence.
Harry drew himself up. He spoke in his slow, careful Italian
and he spoke clearly.
THE FIG TREE 179
"Captain," he said, "I shall, on no account, give you or any-
body else my key, until I have discharged my moral respon-
sibility to my fellow men. I am now going to Rome. I shall see
His Excellency Andrea Pozzo who is my official superior, and
I shall visit the Holy Office where I shall, I believe, meet my
betters. I hope to return with the right to have that evil tree
torn up by the roots and burned," he said. Then relapsing into
English, "Preferably by the public hangman."
Journalists, who had by now crept into the hallways through
the open front-door, reported Harry as having defied the Army
and as having ended his speech with the cry of "God Save the
THERE is no public hangman in Italy, but otherwise Harry
had his own way. The tree was dragged up by the roots. The
ground was bulldozed and sterilised, and the tree was burned,
not in public but very thoroughly, and in front of solemn
Three things helped to bring this about. The first of them
was Maria's obstinacy, for without that Cardinal Capuano
would never have preached his famous sermon. After he had
seen Rezzonico, he had spent the day in retreat and in prayer.
He had emerged with the determination that there was noth-
ing for him to do but to retire to a monastery straight away.
The rest he would leave to Rezzonico.
He came back to his lodgings in time for his evening meal.
Maria had brought it from the canteen in a container which
kept it hot. She laid the table. She served the dish of macaroni
which was all that the Cardinal was accustomed to eat. He sat
at the table, and she watched him silently. When he was nearly
finished she said:
"Don Silvio, you know what the figs were for?"
"Yes, Maria. Do you?"
184 THE FIG TREE
"Yes. It's all over the Borgo."
"Maria," said Silvio Capuano, "I have caused a grave scandal.
I am entirely to blame. I think I should tell you now that I have
decided to resign from my present position and to retire to some
place where I can end my days without causing further harm."
"That's Rezzonico's idea, isn't it?" said Maria, bitterly.
"What are you going to do about all this mess that Andrea's
"Nothing. I am not competent to do anything."
"I thought so," said Maria. "You're a saint ..."
"You're not to use that word, Maria," said the Cardinal.
"But you've got one weakness. They all had, if you ask me."
She waited for Capuano to speak, but he said nothing for a
while. At last he looked at her.
"What is it.?"
"You're afraid of being laughed at. You always were, ever
since you were a parish priest." She took away his dish, and
began to pour his coffee. "It's because it's about men and
women going to bed, isn't it? You never have known much
about that except what you read in the book. / know, though,"
she said, and set the cup in front of him.
"Yes. I had a lover once."
Capuano looked at her in astonishment.
"A real lover. A fine lad, he was."
"But you never told me."
"I confessed it. Not to you. You were worried, and you
weren't well. So I want to the Franciscans."
"What happened, Maria? Did he want to marry you?"
"Yes. But I gave him up."
THE FIG TREE 185
"Because I wanted to look after you." Neither of them spoke
for a while and then she went on, "Don Silvio, do you remem-
ber how your church was always full of people when you were
a parish priest? And even when you were a bishop, too. Do you
ever wonder why all those women came to church and gave
money and lit candles and said the rosary each evening? It's be-
cause they thought you were a good man. It's because they
thought you knew something better than the life they led, going
to bed with their husbands and bearing children and going to
bed with him again when he loved them, when he didn't, when
he was sober, when he was drunk, when they wanted him and
when they thought that they would kill him if he touched them.
They told you their sins, but they didn't tell you this. They
told me, though. They showed me their babies to make me
jealous. And," she said, "I was. I was. But then when they'd
had their fun, they told me the truth. That's why they've got
to have saints. That's why they listened to you. That's why they
still listen to you, and hold up their children to see you when
you're in a procession. And that's why," she said, passionately,
"you've got to tell us that we're right. You. Not Rezzonico.
Capuano looked up at her and saw that tears were streaming
down her old face: but for all that she stood straight, with her
head high, and her mouth set firm.
"And as for Andrea," she said, "he wants a good box on the
ears. I know you won't give him one, so I shall give him one
for you. That will settle him.'^^
The second factor in getting the tree uprooted was Harry's
visit to the Holy Office.
It began most successfully. Harry was flattered to see Con-
signor Di Pino waiting for him as his taxi drew up at the en-
l86 THE FIG TREE
trance to the palace. He was relaxed to find, as they went up
in the elevator, that Monsignor Di Pino spoke more than serv-
iceable English, and like all the world, when he met Rezzonico
in his damask-lined room, he was impressed by the splendour of
his robes. He was about to bow and to make at least a pass at
kissing the Cardinal's ring, when Rezzonico seized his hand and
shook it heartily.
Harry was conducted to the couch. Di Pino drew up a chair
and, acting as an interpreter, conveyed to Harry His Eminence's
preliminary courtesies. These went on a considerable time and
Harry began to wonder how he could bring the conversation
to the point where he could state his business. His eyes wan-
dered round the imposing room. Rezzonico, noting this, judged
it time to explode what he always called his petard.
"Well, now. Doctor Wesley," he said, genially, "you are a
distinguished scientist. Tell me, what does it feel like to find
yourself inside the Holy Office? It was we, you know — and in
this very building — who condemned Galileo for saying that
the earth moved round the sun."
Rezzonico asked this question whenever he was visited by a
scientist, or a Protestant, or a liberal humanist. It had never failed
in its effect. His visitors all felt that this was the last topic they
expected to be discussed by a cardinal. They left his presence
profoundly impressed, as he intended, by his broadmindedness.
Di Pino translated the question to Harry, and as soon as he
had done so, he felt sure that this time it was going to misfire.
"Galileo?" said Harry. "I've always thought that he was a
lucky man to have you gentlemen as his judges. He couldn't
go in front of a meeting of present-day physicists and get away
with a thing like that. Not nowadays. After all, the general
consensus of expert opinion was that the sun went round the
earth. Here was this man saying, 'Oh, no, it's quite the other
THE FIG TREE 1 87
way about.' But there hadn't been any team-work done on it;
it hadn't been in the air; it hadn't been kicked around the
learned societies. Nowadays, he'd have been treated as a mad-
man, a charlatan, or as a danger to professional standards. Every-
body believes that the world of science hangs round its lab.
benches waiting for a genius. We don't. We like to know wliich
way the cat's going to jump. Anybody who can make it jump
a bit further than was expected gets a pat on the back. But woe-
betide anybody who makes it jump in the opposite direction.
If Galileo had been judged by us he would probably have lost
his job and starved: whereas you gentlemen only confined him
to his apartment, I believe. Most reasonable. Most far-sighted.
You gentlemen were the first people to see that scientists are,
by and large, up to no good^^ said Harry, emphasising his words
with an uplifted forefinger. "I take off my hat to you. That's
why I'm here today."
Rezzonico, when, at last, Harry paused to let him say some-
thing, was much less genial. He raised his large nose a trifle
"But that. Doctor Wesley, is a very common misconception
of the attitude of the Church, particularly among people who
are fond of talking about her without knowing very much
about the subject. We do not, by any means, think that scien-
tists are immoral. They may — they very often do — act from the
highest of motives."
"They begin that way," said Harry. "I began by wanting to
save humanity. In the end the only part of humanity that ^^•as
of any real concern to me is sitting in this chair and listening
to Your Eminence."
Rezzonico raised his hand. ''Dear me, no," he said, smiling
bleakly. "It is I who have the honour of listening and a great
privilege I am finding it. But it still remains," he said, with a
l88 THE FIG TREE
trace of sharpness, "that we do not blame the scientists. How-
ever, we are often forced to point out that the discoveries
they make are often put to uses which are in defiance of the
laws of God. This we condemn and condemn again."
"Eminence," said Harry. "If I had a gun and I shot it out of
the window and it killed someone, would you condemn me?"
"It would depend," said the Cardinal. He fiddled with his
ring a moment. "It might be for self-defence. In that case, I
would prefer you did not shoot it out of my window," said the
Cardinal, but Harry brushed his pleasantry aside.
"Suppose I said I fired it to test a hypothesis I had about the
trajectory of bullets."
Since the Cardinal did not reply immediately, Harry was
about to explain further when Rezzonico said, with open irri-
tation to Di Pino, in Italian:
"Please make clear that I quite see what he is driving at. I
am not a complete fool."
"His Eminence," said Di Pino, "fully understands your point.
You are saying that the scientist ..."
"I'm saying that he refuses to consider the results of what he
is doing and just does it claiming heaven knows what high
motives. And I'm saying that that is immoral. If it isn't, I don't
know what immorality is."
"You speak with deep sincerity," said Rezzonico. "With
most moving sincerity." He paused. "Surely, my son, what you
are saying is that you feel that you have done wrong."
"It is. And I have done wrong."
"Your humiUty does you credit," said Rezzonico.
"Begging your pardon," said Harry, "but I don't know that
I do feel humble. I feel angry. With myself maybe. But with
my colleagues and fellow workers, too. That's why I've come
here. I want to ask you to tell us all — ev rybody who'll listen
THE FIG TREE 189
to you — and that will be hundreds of millions — that we stand
in great danger. We stand in danger of having our lives twisted,
our souls and our bodies destroyed, by men who boast that they
are above right and wrong. And I think this scandalous thing
that I have hit upon would make a fine jumping off point, par-
ticularly," Harry finished, "since I will be there to back up
every word you say."
"I understand you are not a member of our Church," said
"Nevertheless," said Rezzonico, "Heaven, we are assured,
may be taken by storm. But you were speaking of your ex-
periments. Would you, perhaps, tell me more about them?"
Harry obliged. It was a great mistake. For at one point in
his explanation he said:
"Pozzo was in a hurry. Funds were running out. So I doubled
Rezzonico brought his great nose to bear full on Harry.
"But that may have caused the change in the effects of your
fertiliser. Or am I being very stupid?"
"It might," said Harry. "But that just supports my point. /
agreed to use it, without the slightest thought of the possible
"Pozzo, you say, asked for it."
Rezzonico smoothed the silk on his lap. Harry proceeded
with his explanation, but he was soon conscious that he was
losing his audience. Di Pino^s translation became slower and
clumsier. The Cardinal fiddled with his ring. When Rezzonico
assured him that he appreciated his zeal, but that the Church
must act with all due caution, he knew he was being dismissed.
He left the Holy Office a deeply disappointed man.
190 THE FIG TREE
"A most interesting chat," said Rezzonico, smiling, to Di
Pino, when Harry had gone. ''The Church has been thoroughly
instructed in her duties and I personally have been given my
"Your Eminence was very forbearing with the young man,"
said Di Pino.
"If I hadn't been," said Rezzonico, "he would never have
let slip that thing about Pozzo.
"Pozzo," His Eminence repeated, and looked a very satisfied
The third factor in uprooting the tree was Isabella.
Harry returned to the South to find his house uninhabitable.
His orphan girl had fled, and no-one else would work for him.
Besides, the place was surrounded day and night by photog-
raphers and journalists.
So he stayed in Joe's blue guest room. The following eve-
ning Isabella came to dinner. Afterwards they sat on a small
cramped terrace which was the only place where they could be
sure they would not be photographed.
"I wouldn't mind the publicity," said Harry, "if only I could
have persuaded Rezzonico to do something. It would have been
just the thing. But now it's wasted. The papers are just making
things up. And they get sillier every day — even sillier than the
one that said I bellowed 'God Save the Queen' in that officer's
face. It's no use. I can't do anything. I'm a foreigner among a
strange people and the only thing they know about me is that
I've seduced one of their women. What I want," he said, "is
some way of talking to them. Some way of getting my point
"This is one of the very few times," said Joe, sympathetically,
THE FIG TREE 191
"when I wish my family were here. They are so good at run-
ning campaigns of that sort. They control one third of the ad-
vertising in America."
'^Your family," said Isabella. "What about mine? We spend
more money in newspapers, television, billboards than . . ."
She stopped. "Billboards," she said. Then, writing the words
with her forefinger in the air. "I can see them — PROTECT
YOUR FAMILY." It was at that moment that Harry's cam-
paign was born.
With true Querela dash, Isabella caught the night train to
her family headquarters in Milan. Neither the ice-cream side
nor the mineral water side took much persuading. The slogan
touched the chords of the Italian heart. It was clean and healthy,
like their ice-cream and soft drinks. Lastly, they had not had a
new promotional idea for a year.
In ten days, the whole country was roused. The ItaHan peo-
ple learned, with horror, that an attack had been made on the
sanctity of family life by a foul drug manufactured under Gov-
ernment auspices. They learned that its inventor, an English-
man, had been overcome with justifiable remorse, and was fully
supporting the campaign. Mothers, wives and sisters scarcely
needed the daily urging from the newspapers, the television and
the omnipresent billboards to rally and fight. Nor did Maria
need to box Pozzo's ears. The Government, struck with panic,
did that for her. He was sacked in the most humiliating fashion
that could be devised, and in that, at least, the Holy Office took
a hand. An article in the Vatican newspaper, written by Di Pino
and touched up by Rezzonico, finished Pozzo's career in poli-
tics for life.
Then, at the climax of the campaign, Capuano preached his
sermon, and the whole country heard him. The next day the
192 THE FIG TREE
tree was destroyed in the presence of a commission represent-
ing the Church, the State and family welfare organisations
throughout the land.
One day, when it was all over, Joe stretched himself lux-
uriously on a long chair under the vine-trellis and said to Harry:
"How nice to do nothing again: absolutely nothing. Why
don't you settle down here and we'll do nothing together?"
"A week of it would near kill me," said Harry. "Besides, I've
"Plans?" said Joe, drowsily. "What plans, Harry?"
"Same plans as I always had ever since I was a little kid.
Saving people. I ought to have been a clergyman really, not a
biologist. But it seems to me that the time's come to wake peo-
ple up. They've got to start thinking of right and wrong again,
just as they had to a couple of thousand years ago when the
Christians took over from the Greeks and the Romans. We've
got to start using our brains."
He went on for a while, but Joe, sleeping lightly in the sun-
shine, did not hear him. He woke after a few moments.
"Eh?" he said.
"I was asking you if you didn't agree with me," said Harry.
"Oh yes, yes indeed, I agree," said Joe. "But Harry, I'm
afraid that if the only way we can be saved is by using our
brains, you'll find that we'd all much rather be damned."
With that he fell asleep and did not wake until Minu called
them in to luncheon.
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